To the Colorado angler, finding your own slice of elbow room on Gold Medal water can be as good as it gets. This on it’s own can be a little tricky as there are definitely no shortage of pros and beginners alike searching for Gold Medal trout. Your best bet for catching large, and a multitude, of Gold Medal trout in Colorado is on The Arkansas River. The Arkansas River of Colorado has 102 miles of designated Gold Medal water stretching from Parkdale, just west of Canon City, all the way to the confluence of The Lake Fork and Arkansas near Leadville. If you value your privacy and solitude while fly fishing then there is no better option in Colorado for fly fishing Gold Medal water than the Arkansas River.
This freestone stretch of Gold Medal water is 102 miles long, and with that long of a stretch of water brings great diversity of stream gradient, insect activity, and water conditions. What happens in Buena Vista is almost certainly not going to be the case in Cotopaxi. This river is rich in diversity, and with that comes challenge to the angler, but also the rewards of understanding your environment.
To really master this Gold Medal water, it’s first important to understand that this is a freestone river. Freestone rivers are those created naturally from precipitation in the high-country and are fed by smaller streams and tributaries that all feed into and form the larger river, in this case The Arkansas. There is no master dam controlling water flows and temperatures. With this comes a certain volatility to flows and temperatures in the water— you’ll rarely be fishing a stable 250 cfs over a prolonged period of time on these types of water. Rather, you’ll see flows rise and drop on a weekly, to even daily basis, based on what kind of moisture the feeder streams are pumping in. So in a freestone river like The Arkansas, the type of water you’re fishing is often more important than your fly selection.
Because flows can get very high and very fast here on The Arkansas River, focus your fishing efforts on the shallow banks and soft pockets of the river. This is a brown trout fishery, and brownies are not typically found in the faster currents that comprise the middle lanes of the river. Brown trout are ambush style predators that lie in soft pocket water and around structure, and will then move into feeding lanes to ambush their prey, i.e; insects and small bait fish. As mentioned above, the water can move very fast and because of this it will carry and deposit gravel and pebbles down river which form sandbars along the riverbed— along either side of the sandbar is typically found channels and troughs that will hold significant numbers of brownies.
Insect selection is important, but it’s not the end all be all to your success on The Arkansas. Throughout a given day trout here can be found eating stonefly nymphs, caddis larva, blue wing olive emergers, and midge larva! Good observation is a crucial tool to use when selecting patterns, but more importantly getting a good drift in fishy water will lead to your success fly fishing The Arkansas River.