Arkansas River Colorado

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Arkansas River in Colorado

Your eyes do not deceive you: there is in fact an Arkansas River in the Colorado mountains. The headwaters can be found up around Leadville, from which the river make its way southward through the Arkansas River Valley, flowing by Buena Vista and Salida before running east into Royal Gorge.

From the gorge, the Arkansas meanders past Canon City and Pueblo, marking 150 miles of river from the headwaters before it reaches the Colorado Plains.

The waters of the Arkansas are prime territory for big browns that love to feast on the massive caddis hatches beneath the shade of the brush that overhangs the banks, especially along the stretch of river that runs from Brown’s Canyon to the Royal Gorge.

For those that love float fishing through the canyons, Royal Gorge is one of the deepest canyons in all of Colorado, and you would be hard pressed find a better canyon view in all of Colorado.

Floating is an especially popular approach for anglers who visit the Arkansas, and there are numerous outfitters in Salida and Buena Vista that can set you up with what you need to spend the day landing browns.

The Arkansas isn’t known for especially large brown trout or gigantic rainbows, but it is known for its massive population numbers. Environmental cleanup over the last 30 years has gone a long way to helping the Arkansas thrive.

Arkansas River Map, Fishing Access Sites and Boat Launches

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Arkansas River (Headwaters): 39.201631, -106.354094
Arkansas River: 39.191820, -106.348000
Arkansas River: 38.842649, -106.120377
Arkansas River: 38.536619, -105.990085
Arkansas River: 38.371069, -105.688562
Arkansas River: 38.410424, -105.584621
Arkansas River: 38.270229, -104.719319
Arkansas River: 38.260289, -104.557057
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.187188, -106.334106
Arkansas River (Reddy SWA): 39.169169, -106.323838
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.163954, -106.319890
Arkansas River (Kobe): 39.128541, -106.311387
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.104052, -106.298003
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.070290, -106.278820
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.068155, -106.277082
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.058040, -106.273319
Arkansas River (Granite SWA): 39.054502, -106.272723
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.043342, -106.265315
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.040201, -106.264693
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.033665, -106.256780
Arkansas River (Granite Rock): 39.026410, -106.244729
Arkansas River (Clear Creek): 39.022418, -106.242801
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.022097, -106.239177
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 39.016404, -106.235797
Arkansas River (Numbers): 39.002052, -106.228974
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.977218, -106.213868
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.943226, -106.185863
Arkansas River (Riverside): 38.930940, -106.172511
Arkansas River (Railroad Bridge): 38.923305, -106.170314
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.899838, -106.172572
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.895868, -106.173066
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.890175, -106.169115
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.846884, -106.122549
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.844195, -106.120983
Arkansas River (Champion SWA): 38.794286, -106.113665
Arkansas River (Hecla Junction): 38.653306, -106.051095
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.629138, -106.065257
Arkansas River (Stone Bridge): 38.611573, -106.063464
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.544062, -106.006216
Arkansas River (Salida Boat Ramp): 38.538062, -105.991107
Arkansas River (Salida East): 38.509125, -105.963092
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.493445, -105.917891
Arkansas River (Rincon): 38.472456, -105.866089
Arkansas River (Vallie Bridge): 38.391712, -105.774425
Arkansas River (Canyon Trading Post): 38.367540, -105.715100
Arkansas River (Lone Pine): 38.390564, -105.653334
Arkansas River (Texas Creek): 38.409974, -105.584841
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.417225, -105.574746
Arkansas River (Maytag): 38.425722, -105.566768
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.426252, -105.557349
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.438443, -105.539206
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.445396, -105.527657
Arkansas River (Salt Lick): 38.455261, -105.500481
Arkansas River (Spikebuck): 38.458755, -105.463352
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.477026, -105.431988
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.439556, -105.215507
Arkansas River (Pathfinder Regional Park): 38.407040, -105.146735
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.271223, -104.716659
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.270793, -104.708977
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.259463, -104.706048
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.261599, -104.701628
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.270195, -104.676769
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.265800, -104.657532
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.268132, -104.624924
Arkansas River (Fishing Access): 38.259602, -104.617192
Arkansas River (Arkansas River Ranch): 39.139497, -106.317409
Arkansas River (Big Bend SWA): 38.572024, -106.066109
Arkansas River (Centennial Park): 38.436075, -105.241355
Arkansas River (Centennial Park): 38.436098, -105.242251
Arkansas River (Elephant Rock): 38.884778, -106.152211
Arkansas River (Everett Fishing Lease): 38.566379, -106.049801
Arkansas River (Fishermans Bridge): 38.767899, -106.093896
Arkansas River (Five Points): 38.453336, -105.493307
Arkansas River (Florence River Park): 38.390935, -105.074029
Arkansas River (Hayden Ranch): 39.153343, -106.317066
Arkansas River (Johnson Village SWA): 38.813186, -106.104174
Arkansas River (Lake Pueblo State Park): 38.271146, -104.720987
Arkansas River (Lower Hayden Ranch): 39.112864, -106.301616
Arkansas River (Ogden-Treat SWA): 38.405321, -105.780060
Arkansas River (Parkdale): 38.485919, -105.387821
Arkansas River (Pink House): 38.432556, -105.264787
Arkansas River (Pinnacle Rock): 38.447538, -105.522715
Arkansas River (Point Barr): 38.475296, -105.881828
Arkansas River (Rapid No. 4): 38.970583, -106.206075
Arkansas River (Ruby Mountain): 38.752710, -106.070384
Arkansas River (Smyth Fishing Lease): 38.603783, -106.073705
Arkansas River (Stone Cabin): 39.020659, -106.236867
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Best Places to Fish the Arkansas River

The prime stretch for brown trout is definitely the canyons between Salida and Swissvale through the Royal Gorge. The waters here are teeming with brown trout, and while the Arkansas doesn’t have a reputation for river monsters, anglers routinely record landing browns over 17 inches.

Most anglers who favor the Arkansas tend to visit when they want to catch a lot of fish during the day. Floating is highly recommended for canyon fishing, and most visitors agree that taking a float down the Arkansas provides the greatest chance of a successful day.

To get to the Arkansas from Leadville, just hop on Highway 24 south bound and you’ll be there in no time. If you are leaving from Denver, you will be taking 285 to the 24 junction near Buena Vista, and from Colorado Springs you can reach the Arkansas from either 24 to Buena Vista or 115 southwest via Canyon City to follow the river along 50 west.

The best jumping off points along the Arkansas are definitely in Salida and Buena Vista, as both offer a wide variety of outfitting and accommodation services for anglers visiting the Arkansas River year round. Primary access points are Brown’s Canyon, Big Bend, Bighorn Sheep Canyon Big Bend, Salida East, and Rincon (see map above).

Arkansas River Flow and Current Conditions

ARKANSAS RIVER NEAR NATHROP, CO

  • Flow: 831 ft³/s
  • Water Level: 4.74 ft
.
USGS

Best Time to Fish the Arkansas River

Prime season for fishing the Arkansas River is definitely the Mother’s Day Caddis fly hatch in the spring, but winter midge fishing also offers plenty of action as well. Most of the locals mark the prime season of the year on the Arkansas as March 1st through Halloween at the end of October, so no matter when you visit, you are in for some good action. 

As far as time of day is concerned, the browns and rainbows of the Arkansas tend to be most active between 10:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m., so you can spend a leisurely six hours or so floating or wading the stretch of water you like best.

Arkansas River Fly Box

The primary hatches along the Arkansas are the BWO in summertime and fall, midges in the winter, and caddis and stoneflies in the springtime, so plan accordingly.

Some proven fly patterns for the Arkansas River include:

- Elk Hair Caddis (tan #14-16)

- Two-bit hooker (olive/red #18/16)
- Pheasant tail nymph (natural/flash #14-18)
- Stonefly nymph (golden #10-16)
- Zebra midge (black/red #18)

Arkansas River Fishing Tips

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Arkansas River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Arkansas River Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Arkansas River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.

Arkansas River Fishing Regulations

Fishing regulations in the area are sectional, so know where you are and what the rules for that section are.

Stockyard Bridge below Saluda to Badger Creek is a 7.5 mile section that is catch-and-release only for rainbow trout.

Chaffee, Fremont, and Lake Counties all have a two fish possession limit from the Highway 24 Bridge downstream to the lower boundary of Hayden Ranch.

Finally, from Middle Fork of South Arkansas headwaters to Boss Lake are catch-and-release only.

Arkansas River Trip Planning Tips

The Arkansas is close enough to Colorado Springs that you can generally find an inexpensive air fare to visit. The drive along US-24 West is just over 2 hours. There are numerous hunting and fishing cabins in the area along both sides of the river, and public campgrounds are available in the many National Parks near Gunnison.

Traditional accommodations are easy enough to find too, but book well in advance if you are visiting during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch.

Don’t forget to check out vacation rentals as well, particularly near the ski resorts. Many vacation condos and chalets provide opportunities for bargain accommodations if you visit the area during the off-season.

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Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Colorado.


About the Author Ken Sperry

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and is on a quest to map the best places for fly fishing in America. He created DIY Fly Fishing and the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish. Have a question? You can get in touch with Ken here.