100 Best: Arkansas River
Location: Central Colorado
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spinning, Bait
Species: Brown, rainbow
Access: Moderate to difficult
Supporting Services: Salida, Canon City
Short take: Big rich water in a long skinny park
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapter: Collegiate Peaks
More than 70 miles of the river’s 148 miles are available via 16 river access sites to anglers who walk and wade. Most of the rest can be floated, though some of the canyon sections are best run with in a drift boat or raft oared by a well experienced guide. Browns make up about 80 percent of the trout population.
The main stem of the river forms just west of Leadville. Below the town, the Arkansas meanders through a fairly broad valley. At the foot of the valley, rapids and runs become more prevalent. Pools are shorter as are the riffles that fill them. At Buena Vista, the valley widens again and the river meanders a bit in a floodplain bounded by low bluffs. Below Nathrop, the mountains close in and the Arkansas enters Browns Canyon, a 12-mile set of class III and IV rapids. Hoards of whitewater rafters run this section in summer. Eight miles upstream from Salida, the river exits the canyon and flows through a broad agricultural valley braiding briefly three miles above the town.
At Coaldale, 20 miles downstream from Salida, the river makes almost a right-angle turn to the northeast and enters the region a series of canyons culminating with 10-mile long Royal Gorge, the Grand Canyon of the Arkansas River. The only access to the browns and rainbows in the gorge is via guided float trip. Best fishing is found in the lower half of the gorge where the river settles down a bit. Best time to float? Early spring and fall, and never in the summer which sees as many as 400 rafts run the river each day. East of Canyon City, the Arkansas becomes a mature high steppe western river with islands, channels, braids, and good browns all the way to Pueblo.