Introduction to Fly Fishing Colorado’s South Platte River

The Center Fork of the South Platte River is a traditional meandering meadow stream. It affords anglers solitude and an impressive view of the Mosquito Vary. Photograph by Jay Nichols

The South Platte River begins in Colorado excessive atop the frozen Continental Divide, dwelling to a sequence of rugged 13,000-foot, snowcapped peaks. This area includes lush valleys, meandering meadow streams, and rose-colored, boulder-filled canyons. For generations it has been a recreation mecca and a fly fisher’s paradise in its purest kind. The South Platte drainage has a wealthy historical past, intermingling mining, cattle grazing, industrial fishing, ranching, railroading, and tourism.

Our tour of the South Platte basin begins on the southeast slope of 11,541-foot Hoosier Move. The Center Fork, as it’s referred to, originates southeast of Breckenridge and meanders by means of the neighboring communities of Alma and Fairplay earlier than becoming a member of forces with the fabled South Fork, which begins on the japanese aspect of 11,900-foot Weston Move. Just like the Center Fork, it too begins as snowmelt, twisting and turning its means by means of wealthy ranchland earlier than getting into Antero Reservoir.

From the bottom of Antero Reservoir, the South Fork carves its means towards the small neighborhood of Hartsel and eventually merges with the Center Fork simply above Spinney Mountain Reservoir. From the confluence downstream, the river is understood by fly-fishing aficionados because the South Fork of the South Platte, which finally rendezvouses with the North Platte River, in North Platte, Nebraska.

All through the river’s entirety, the South Platte creates a sequence of reservoirs (Antero, Spinney Mountain, Eleven Mile, Cheesman, Strontia Springs, and Chatfield) that present main metropolitan water storage techniques for Denver Water and the town of Aurora. The byproducts of those storage services are world-class tailwaters that present anglers with year-round fishing alternatives.

The South Platte River is the jugular vein of the central Rocky Mountains. It helps three million individuals and 4 million livestock, to not point out billions of kilos of world-class hay and different assorted grains. Moreover, greater than three-quarters of 1,000,000 individuals have settled within the close by city areas, demanding their share of the useful resource for day-to-day residing.

Because the inhabitants continues to develop, water turns into a uncommon but important commodity. Solely one in every of each 4 gallons that originates within the South Platte hall ever reaches the river’s finish. Cities, farmers, and trade devour the remaining water; in lots of circumstances it’s reused a minimum of 3 times.

Over time the South Platte watershed has skilled its fair proportion of ups and downs, however one way or the other towards all odds, trout populations nonetheless prevail. Within the Nineteen Eighties Denver Water instigated an enormous environmental controversy, Two Forks Dam, which proposed to submerge 20-plus miles of prime trout habitat to construct one other stillwater impoundment.

As deliberate, the 615-foot-high venture with a price ticket of almost $500 million was designed to create an extra reservoir to satisfy the calls for of 400,000 new Denver metropolitan residents. The brand new 1,700-foot-wide dam and reservoir would have been a mediocre fishery at greatest due to the steep, serrated granite shorelines and lack of shallow mossy feeding areas which are conducive for good trout populations in stillwater fisheries. Foot entry would have been extraordinarily troublesome if not utterly not possible in a number of areas due to the terrain.

Thank goodness the environmental neighborhood got here collectively and shaped an unbelievable community opposing the proposed Two Forks Reservoir. Trout Limitless argued that it could decimate one of many biggest wild trout populations on the planet, and the Nationwide Audubon Society and Nationwide Wildlife Federation argued it could have a detrimental impact on river-dependent species.

Greater than 10,000 residents wrote letters and appeared at quite a few public hearings opposing the Two Forks Dam. The politicians, nonetheless, didn’t budge on this challenge. From their perspective, water storage was the one precedence and outside recreation would take a subordinate position within the huge image. The one different was extra conservation and limiting the expansion of the Denver metropolitan space.

The saving grace was when George H. W. Bush was elected to workplace in 1988. Environmental leaders persuaded Bush and his Environmental Safety Company chief, William Reilly, to veto the Two Forks venture as a violation of the Clear Water Act, and in 1989 Reilly did simply that. The headlines within the Denver Submit and the Rocky Mountain Information have been memorable: “EPA Vetoes Two Forks.” It was perceived as a victory: Two Forks Dam was useless, a minimum of for now.

The choice shocked everybody, and plenty of politicians appealed to Bush’s former marketing campaign supervisor, Lee Atwater, to get the veto overturned. There have been highly effective supporters of the veto, nonetheless. Former president Gerald Ford—a part-time Colorado resident—additionally really useful that the Bush administration kill Two Forks for good. So, in the interim, Two Forks Dam was useless. Politicians nonetheless proceed to foyer for a smaller model of the dam, nonetheless, and solely time will reveal the result.

Subsequent, whirling illness surfaced within the early Nineties and decimated wild rainbow populations; then there have been the high-water years of 1995 and 1999, adopted by a six-year drought, the Schoonover and Hayman Fires, and eventually the straw that broke the camel’s again—the flash flooding of 2002, 2003, and 2004 that clogged Cheesman Canyon and Deckers with insect-choking sediments and decomposed granite, inflicting a considerable decline in trout populations.

In 2015 the South Platte skilled record-high flows in lots of sections, with river ranges exceeding 1,000 cubic toes per second (cfs) in South Park (Charlie Meyers State Wildlife Space), 2,300 cfs beneath Cheesman Reservoir, and almost 3,000 cfs within the Deckers space. The river’s substrate modified dramatically after the excessive water of 2015. On July 6, 2018, a flash flood devastated the center a part of Cheesman Canyon; 3.8 inches of rain fell in a single afternoon. The worst harm occurred between Hell’s Half Acre and the Meat Gap, the place quite a few washouts deposited a number of tons of decomposed granite into the river from the Hayman Fireplace burn scar.

It’s laborious to think about what would occur if the South Platte River have been managed as true trout habitat as an alternative of a water useful resource. Flows fluctuate day by day, creating undue stress for trout. Denver Water is confronted with a juggling act because it tries to stability the wants of anglers and people of senior water-rights holders. Within the aftermath, it seems as if the trout take the brunt of the punishment. Attorneys and politicians have actually made careers out of litigating who will get water and when.

Of all of the trout fisheries in America inside an hour’s drive of a serious metropolitan space, the South Platte River is clearly probably the greatest. It has change into a river shrine to 1000’s of anglers on an annual foundation and for good motive. The South Platte rainbow is among the prettiest fish on the planet. South Platte regulars consider that the South Platte rainbow is a subspecies of their very own. They’re wild, super-selective, and intensely troublesome to idiot!

Not solely is the South Platte recognized for its wily trout, but it surely’s additionally the place a number of the biggest trout flies of all time have been developed—particularly, close to Deckers throughout the early Seventies. Among the many hottest are the South Platte Brassie, invented by the late Gene Lynch; the Buckskin and Miracle Nymph, created by Ed Marsh; and the RS2, the most well-liked South Platte fly of all time, developed by Rim Chung. Greater than 30 years later, these flies nonetheless fill anglers’ fly bins and are routinely plucked from trout’s jaws alongside your entire South Platte waterway. Extra just lately, within the Nineties, the Black Magnificence, Prime Secret Midge, Mercury Midge, Rojo Midge, and Manhattan Midge have been developed right here, and so they additionally gained nationwide notoriety. It’s really superb how using these efficient flies has unfold to different tailwaters all through the nation.

Excerpted with permission from Fly Fishing Guide to the South Platte River, 2nd. Ed. (Stackpole Books, 2019)


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