Fishing in autumn

Gin-clear water rushing from rapids and riffles falls down into a deeper pool on a colorful autumn day.

The stretch of the Arkansas River near Salida might be best known as a whitewater rafting destination, but the fishing is also some of the best around.

The state’s longest stretch of Gold Medal waters flows through town, meaning there are lots of big brown trout for anglers to go after.

“The fishing here is incredible,” said Sarah Briam, owner of The Next Eddy fly shop in Salida. “It’s a very stable, healthy fishery; we’re lucky we haven’t been affected by fires.”

About 17 miles east of Salida, however, the Hayden Pass Fire from 2016 is still having an effect on the river below Coaldale. Sediment from flash floods has covered up a lot of the places where insects used to live, and without the insects to feed on, the fish are also moving on.

Above that, however, the fishery remains vibrant. Just upstream from the fire, near Wellsville, there are lots of good holes.

There’s lots more public access above that, and another good spot to fish is just west of Salida – Big Bend. Solitude, and big gravel bars, can also be found at Big Bend. “There’s tons of public water there, so there’s lots of room to move around,” Briam said.

Right in town, behind the baseball fields at Marvin Park, is another spot to try. “There’s a really nice stretch from the baseball fields up – you can walk along the river up to Sands Lake,” Briam said.

Sands Lake and Frantz Lake, which is about a mile further up the road near the Mount Shavano Fish Hatchery, are both stocked and good places for both kids and adults to land some trout.

High mountain lakes require some hiking to get to but offer a different, more natural experience. The lakes are strongholds for cutthroat trout.

“All of the (high mountain lakes) that can have fish do,” Mike Atwood, Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish biologist, said. “We use these as cutthroat trout strongholds where they don’t have to compete with other species. We want to avoid hybridization and competing with non-natives.”

In summer, when temperatures in the middle of the day in Salida can reach 90 degrees, it’s a good idea to get out and fish early. Outside of that window, when it’s cold at night, Briam said it’s nice to let the water warm up and let the fish get active before trying to fish.

As the snow melts this summer, however, Briam wanted to remind people to be careful while on the river.

“Flows will get high, and it will affect where you can safely wade,” she said.

Mayflies and midges are two flies that are pretty consistent in the Arkansas, Briam said. Caddis and blue-winged olives are great options when they hatch in late spring and early summer.

The Next Eddy and ArkAnglers fly shop both post fishing reports on their respective websites, helping anglers know where and what the fish are biting.

Those shops, as well as Salida Anglers, a new guide service, are also good spots to get more information about current conditions and hatches.