Arkansas is more than a state

Robert L. Ortiz | The Southern Ute Drum

One of the high points of my year was the annual fly fishing trip Sam and I took with a group of friends from Texas. This group is made up of three doctors, one lawyer, two sons that are a lawyer and construction manager, plus Sam and I. Guess where Sam and I fit in on the educational level. To make matters worse, all these guys are good rod hands. I think Sam and I are invited only because we know our way around the state, and have vehicles large enough to carry all their gear. Regardless of the reason for us being invited, it is always fun. This year the trip was to the Arkansas River.

If you’ve never fly-fished the Arkansas River, you should. It’s an easy drive from Durango, and provides endless opportunities to fish. The river flows for 1,400 miles from its origin in the Sawatch Mountains to the Mississippi River. However, the most popular stretch of the river is the 120-mile run from Leadville to Canon City. Similar to many rivers in Colorado, the Arkansas flows through both private and public lands. For this 120-mile stretch 60 percent is through private land. That leaves 48 miles of public accessible river. If 48 miles is not enough river for you, you can float the entire 120 miles.

My merry group of fly fishing partners picked three days in late September for this year’s outing. There are many towns to find lodging, food, drink, and easy access to the river; Salida was their choice. The group decided to hire guides for the three days of fishing, and Arkanglers drew the short straw. I’m not sure they have recovered from this eight-some. The three days consisted of floating the Arkansas for two days and fishing a high mountain lake, at 11,500 feet, the last day.

For me, floating the Arkansas River is different from other rivers I have floated. The river valley is fairly narrow, and has lots of large boulders. Being narrow, with 5,000 vertical feet of fall in its first 125 miles, the river can have a high rate of flow. This means whoever is rowing has to be really good on the oars. The guides from Arkanglers were. The large numbers of big boulders, strategically placed close to each other, also mandates the boats be inflatable rather than the rigid drift boats you see around here. Inflatables bend easier than fiberglass.

So, what did two days of floating and one day of lake fishing produce in the way of fish and fun? Lots of both. While floating, both nymphs and dry flies were used. We caught browns and rainbows in all types of water conditions. Similar to floating in other areas of Colorado we saw a variety of wildlife, a herd of big horn sheep standing on the shore, bald eagles, and deer; beaver were also spotted. I do have to mention that one of the highly educated participants demonstrated why you wear a life jacket while floating. Enough said; use your imagination.

The high mountain lake was my favorite day. The drive was only an hour, but across roads that keep lots of people out. Also, the elevation can be a hindrance to those used to living at lower elevations. If you go, be sure to drink lots of water, and don’t get in a foot race for what you think is the best spot.

The lake was clear and had lots of cutthroats feeding along the shore. We were able to wade at the shallow end of the lake and used dry flies all day. While the fish weren’t huge, they were very healthy and really hungry. This was a great place to fish and lends itself to float tubes. I’m taking mine next year. Oh yea, we got another swimming exhibition from one of our group.

The Arkansas River is just one more reason to live and fly fish in southwest Colorado.




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