Because of the proximity of the South Platte River to Denver Colorado, thousands of fly fishermen visit the river every year, myself included. The South Platte is Gold Medal fishing water, world renowned for its trophy brown and rainbow trout. I’ve enjoyed exploring and fishing this tailwater fishery with its seven dams over the length of the river.
The first dam is the Antero Reservoir near the river’s origin. The next dam is the Spinney Mountain Reservoir, covering about 2,500 acres. Two miles further, water enters the Eleven Mile Reservoir which drains into Eleven Mile Canyon. This leads to the Cheesman Reservoir which was the world’s tallest when it was built in 1905. The reservoir feeds into the Cheesman Canyon leading to the town of Deckers. Some 17 miles further, after meeting the North Fork, the river enters the Strontia Springs Reservoir, then flows through Waterton Canyon to enter the last dam, Chatfield Reservoir, before merging with the North Platte River.
Most of these dams are bottom released which means the water temperatures are stable all the time, excellent for year round fly fishing. When most rivers and streams are jammed with ice in the winter, tailwaters remain open for miles past the dam and reservoir which makes it ideal for some Denver winter fly fishing.
The most important advantage of tailwater fisheries is the controlled source of water. Constant flows provide ideal conditions for growing of large and healthy trout. Water temperatures are just right, and a wide range of aquatic insects are present. Typically, the stream bottom is weed-rich, and offers high levels of nutrients to fish. A constant release of water prevents spring-time scouring of the stream beds, and provides steady flow in drier periods.
Personally, my favorite tailwater fishery is Waterton Canyon. This is a beautiful trout stream between the Strontia Springs Dam and Chatfield Reservoir. Every time I visit the area, I am rewarded with numerous small to medium brown trout, especially when I use large beadhead nymphs to work pocketwater. The guides at the Minturn Anglers shop in Denver suggest I try the upper three miles from Strontia Springs Dam to just above the Marston Diversion for the best fly fishing experience. I will give this a try on my next trip out.