When the leaves start changing in fall, it doesn’t mean that fishing, camping and dirt biking seasons are over. In fact, fall might be the best time to enjoy some of those activities, especially in Bighorn Sheep Canyon.
“It’s less populated than in the summer when the campgrounds are at capacity,” said Tappan Brown, river ranger supervisor with Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area. “There’s also opportunities for viewing fall colors, and the weather is cooler.”
Fishing in the canyon goes in cycles – it’s good before runoff begins, it gets tougher when the water rises, and then it starts getting good again after the flows peak and start going down.
“Now that the water has dropped, there’s some great fishing,” Brown said. Brown trout are the predominant fish in the canyon, while there are also some rainbow trout.
The canyon, which boasts Gold Medal waters, is best to fish above Coaldale. Remnants from the Hayden Creek Fire, mostly sediment from floods, still affect the river below Coaldale. With the river flowing at more than 4,000 cubic feet per second this summer, however, a lot of that sediment was flushed out.
“The high flows helped clean the river,” Brown said. “The sediment was transported downstream, so now there’s better habitat and the water is more clear.”
With less sediment filling in the spaces between rocks, aquatic insects have more places to live. Trout, who rely on their vision to hunt, can also see their prey better.
Brown said it will take several years before the area fully recovers, so the fishing will still be better above Coaldale.
Brown said the best fishing in the canyon is from Salida East to Vallie Bridge. “You can still navigate a boat pretty well and float fish,” he said.
A 7.5-mile stretch below Stockyard Bridge, which is by Salida East, is restricted to artificial flies and lures only. Complete regulations are available at cpw.state.co.us.
While fishing is one of the highlights in the canyon, there are other popular activities as well. Fall camping is nice because fewer people are out and the temperatures are lower. While designated camping spots require reservations, dispersed camping on AHRA land is allowed but requires a fire container and portable toilet device to help protect the sensitive riparian area.
Designated off-highway-vehicle trails near Texas Creek are also pretty popular in the fall, Brown said. The OHV trails are for all-terrain vehicles and dirt bikes.
Of course, just sitting back and watching the colorful leaves can be a good way to spend a day. And, as the canyon’s name suggests, bighorn sheep populate the canyon, and if people are lucky, they may just spot a few.