Check out all the best the South Platte has to offer, but without the crowds. Rocky Mountain Game & Fish magazine breaks down the section from Cheesman Reservoir to Strontia Springs Reservoir. (February 2010)
The South Platte River begins its journey high in the Pike National Forest near Hoosier Pass. The river continues its flow, sometimes quickly, sometimes lazily, through deep cannons, lush meadows, passing through several reservoirs before finally turning northeast through Denver and toward the Nebraska state line.
On a sunny spring day, water clarity can be 5 feet or more. That makes sight-fishing possible, but also makes it easier for the trout to see you.
Photo by Brian Strickland.
Sections of this waterway fall into almost mythical categories: the Dream Stream, the Dream Mile, World Class, Gold Medal, Blue Ribbon . . . the list goes on and on. But the fame of these associations does not go unnoticed.
On any given weekend, you can expect to run into many anglers dipping flies and dropping nymphs in efforts to catch record-sized trout. There is a section of the South Platte River where the fishing pressure is not as great, and the water is still full of hungry trout.
Surprisingly, the location of this river section is closer to home than you might think. I'm speaking about the Cheesman Reservoir to the Strontia Springs Reservoir leg. Here you will find ice-free water and willing trout on any given day, and all within an hour of Denver.
Although the Cheesman-to-Strontia segment of the South Platte is relatively small compared with the overall length and flow of the river, it has several sections of varying river conditions. There also are changing river regulations and preferred methods of fishing. That's why it's a good idea to look at each sectionindividually.
The waters below the Cheesman Reservoir are without question the best areas to target large fish. With more fish per mile and more restrictive fishing regulations, the trout living below the dam and swimming to the Wigwam Fish Club boundary grow large.
To get to the river above the fishing club, use the Gill Trail hiking path. This is the best way to get into the canyon. The closer you hike to the dam, the better the fishing gets. This fact is well known, so arrive early, or fish on a weekday to secure the best spots. Bring waders for access to some of the lesser-fished holes and pools.
Several years of drought and the Hayman fire took a large toll on trout in the South Platte River below the dam. The Platte became saturated with soot after the fire, and consequently, fish kills took a lot of trophy trout. Many anglers predicted that trout numbers would never recover. But active stocking programs by the Colorado Division of Wildlife have brought back the trout numbers to near their pre-fire levels.
From the boundary of Wigwam Fish Club, the Platte begins to wind downstream to Scraggy View picnic area. You'll find good access just north of Deckers. There are many turn-offs from Highway 67, and many are very close to the river.
Most of the best areas for river access happen after the small town of Trumbull, just a few miles north of Deckers. There are a few scattered sections of private land, so ask first or avoid these places before wetting your line.
This area is the least-fished section of the river. The long and wide winding canyon opens up to a valley several hundred yards across. There are many sections of slow-moving water, large outcroppings of small to house-sized boulders, good vegetation, all surrounded by the Pike National Forest, and all providing a very picturesque fishing scene. Better still, there are a lot of trout to be had.
If you're looking for the quintessential one-man-on-the-river scenario, this is the section for you.
Driving down Platte River Road (Highway 67), turn east after Gunbarrel Creek Road to the Strontia Springs Reservoir inlet, and you can find several designated and many more non-designated parking spots, just a stone's throw away from the river's edge. Watch your speed on the road; the switch from concrete to dirt road happens quickly. There are falling rocks and many anglers park haphazardly when they see a good spot on the water to fish.
Some of the best fishing is in the deeper pools, which form when winter-spring water levels drop. Look for places in the river, where the rocks create bottlenecks of fast-moving and consequently, deeper water. There are hundreds to choose from.
If you really want some hidden, rarely fished bits of the Platte, and have a little mountain man in you, you can rock scramble into the canyon inlet of Strontia Springs Reservoir. There is a path on the west side of the Platte for the first one-half mile into the inlet, but then that stops.
The canyon walls are steep, the water access is limited, you will probably see a lot of bear scat and you might run into a bighorn sheep or deer. The fishing is worth it, and the adventure of getting there might be more fun.
FINDING THE FISH
Many species of trout live in the Platte, in one stretch or another, but for our Denver day-trip section, you are looking to catch either rainbow or brown trout.
"Trout population consists of rainbows and browns, split up about 50-50," said Danny Brennan, owner of South Platte Outfitters.
Whichever species you are targeting, you can expect to catch, and often see, many trout on any given day on the Platte.
Trout populations are about 3,500 per mile in Cheesman, 2,000 per mile through Deckers, and 1,700 per mile in the stocked sections toward Strontia, according to Brennan, who has been fishing this section for nearly 20 years.
At about 12 miles long, this area of the Platte River translates literally into about 20,000 trout opportunities.
CHECK YOUR FLY
There are as many flies at your local fish shop as there are fish stories out there. Knowing what to use and what hatch is happening can have a dramatic effect on your fishing success in the South Platte.
Generally, nymphs are the best producing flies on this section of the Platte.
Brennan of South Platte Outfitters recommended RS2s, P-Tails and Stones. Hoppers, San Juan Worms and caddis are also all productive, he said. "Small
midges are standard throughout the year, but are dominant in winter and spring."
Blue-Winged Olives make up a large part of the spring trout diet below Cheesman. When fishing during a hatch, a matching fly can create a once-in-a-lifetime trout day.
"Short-line, high-stick, dead-drifting nymph patterns are the most consistent and productive method that we use," said Brennan "But being flexible and trying different bugs and techniques is the key to good fishing results. That's always going to be true."
Small gold and silver spinners work well on sunny days. Black and dark green Panther Martins are great to use during aggressive feeding situations, when hatches are happening, and on overcast mornings and evenings.
Small spinners also yield fish when fished downstream, and pulled up against the current. Plastic earth worms riding downstream, and sitting just off the bottom work well. Leave the live bait at home -- you can only use artificial flies and lures.
Some sections of the Platte River can have very large and picky fish. Having a variety of options to throw out in the water will help land those harder to tempt trout.
If you're new to fly-fishing, or unfamiliar with the river, there are ways to get some education.
"One of the best things a new angler can do is to hire a guide for a half-day trip," said Howard of Colorado Trout Hunters. "You can pick up a lot of knowledge from an experienced guide, things like fly-tying, identifying bugs and hatches, presentation and such."
Good luck and good fishing.