To call the South Platte River a fly-fishing legend is something of an understatement.
In fly fishing circles, it has achieved heroic myth status as THE fly fishing destination for Gold Medal trout.
The beauty of the place alone could carry it to legendary status on its own merits, as the massive granite formations and boulders stand like a testament to the passage of giants in ages past.
The age of the general area (especially around Waterton Canyon), has caused the granite in the area to exfoliate, resulting in domes of solid rock that are as majestic as they are mystifying.
The scenery may be legendary, but it is the fishing that makes the gives the area its status as a location for mighty deeds of anglers that would seem downright mythical if not for the innumerable pictures and trophies taken there.
As many as 7,000 fish freely swim each of the many miles of the South Platte River as it flows from Deckers through the Waterton Canyon, and on a weekend in good weather it can see near almost as many fisherman.
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There really isn’t any particular section of the South Platte that doesn’t offer fantastic opportunities to land a trophy Brown, Brook, or Rainbow trout.
These have been considered championship fishing since the mid 19th century when anglers started making trips from back east on the newly constructed railways that made access to the area a matter of a few days travel.
The easiest way to get to the headwaters of the river is from Highway 67, which follows the main course of the South Platte’s flow through Pike National Forest to the edge of Waterton Canyon.
Private property in the area tends to be well marked, so concerns over trespassing are less of an issue than in some other fishing spots in Colorado.
Take care cruising the roads in the area though, as some of the more mountainous routes are narrow, and traffic can be crowded on the weekend during peak season.
This world famous fishing area ends where the North Fork of the Colorado meets the South Platte at the entrance of the Waterton Canyon.
How to Fish the South Platte River in Waterton Canyon by Ascent Fly Fishing
Conifer, Pine Junction, Deckers, and Sedalia are all popular “jumping off” points for anglers looking to land a Gold Medal trout, and all of them offer access to the river via Highway 67. If you do decide to visit during peak season (spring and summer hatches after runoff), be prepared for traffic and crowds.
Thanks to the weather in the high meadows of the South Platte River region, there are hatches of caddis fly almost year round, and though the winter cold can be absolutely brutal, it is a good way to avoid the crowds that pack the river’s edge during the busy season.
Access to the water is somewhat more problematic in the winter, though it has more to do with the ice and snow along Highway 67 than it does other anglers hoping to make the catch of a lifetime. Layer up and dress warm in the winter, and bring plenty of bug spray to deal with the mosquitoes during the warmer months.
Recommended flies for the South Platte River include:
- Parachute Adams
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Loop Wing Emerger
- Barr’s Emerger BWO
- Chartreuse Copper John
- Juju Baetis
- Caddis Larva
- Zebra Midge Black/Silver
- Pure Midge Larva Black or Black/Red
- Disco Midge
- San Juan Worm
- Dave’s Hopper
- Egg patterns
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the South Platte River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish South Platte River fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife Department has some region specific rules for fisherman along the South Platte, so get familiar with them before heading out:
- From Cheesman Dam downstream to upper boundary of Wigwam Club - Gold Medal - fishing with artificial flies or lures only; catch and release
- From lower boundary of Wigwam Club to Scraggy View picnic ground - Gold Medal - fishing with artificial flies or lures only; bag and possession is 2 fish, 16" or longer
- From Strontia Springs dam to 300 yds upstream from DWB diversion structure - fishing with artificial flies or lures only; bag and possession is 2 fish, 16" or longer
Provided you abide by these rules, you are going to enjoy your visit to the legendary South Platte River, often nicknamed “The Dream Stream.”
The Colorado Parks & Wildlife publish several maps that illustrate where special fishing regulations apply to the South Platte River in South Park and from Cheesman to Chatfield reservoirs.
Deckers is only 53 miles from the Colorado Springs Airport, so flights in and out of that location are recommended for visitors.
If you plan on visiting during peak season though, make sure you reserve all of your accommodations months in advance, as local cabins, campgrounds, and hotels fill up fast during peak trout season.
Avoid having to stay and travel from locations further away from the fishing by planning ahead for your short or extended trips.
Definitely check out vacation rentals in the area too, as you can sometimes find a great place to stay for you and your fishing party for much more reasonable rates than hotels and cabins usually charge.
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 the DIY Fly Fishing App to share this information and help you find new places to fish.
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