30 Great Places: Browns Canyon

Region: Southern Rockies
Activities: Fishing; Hunting; Rafting
Species: Brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout; bighorn sheep; elk; mule deer

Where: Browns Canyon National Monument rests in south central Colorado, between the communities of Buena Vista and Salida in Chaffee County. Its 21,586 acres encompass rugged lands along the upper Arkansas River; here, spectacular granite walls rise from the river to heights eclipsing 10,000 feet, with the taller 14,000-foot peaks of the Sawatch Range visible in the distance. In addition to bordering the gold medal Arkansas (Colorado’s highest designation for trout fisheries), Browns Canyon affords critical habitat for bighorn sheep, elk, golden eagle and peregrine falcon.

Why: Excellent brown trout fishing in a stunning canyon setting.

“Beginning in the 80s, I would drive the three hours from Denver to fish the Browns Canyon area,” said Keith Krebs, president of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “It was so special to me, I moved here to be closer. The Arkansas here is productive and accessible—though you have to work at it.”

The Upper Arkansas is now Colorado’s longest stretch of gold medal water. Once tainted with heavy metals (remnants from upstream mining), clean-up efforts now have it running cleaner and supporting a variety of hatches.

“Caddis were once dominant, but now we see more insect diversity,” Krebs continued. “These include stoneflies and Blue Winged Olives. Hatches come off year-round.”

Browns Canyon is one of America’s most popular rafting destinations, and anglers must coexist with raft traffic.

“There’s not as many rafters in early spring and late fall, and those are the best times to fish.”

Anglers scanning the canyon sides may spy bighorn. (Krebs also recommends the Hayden Meadows section of the Arkansas upstream of the monument, near Leadville.)

Inside Knowledge: Fish the edges.

“In many places in the canyon, it’s difficult to wade,” Krebs added. “But you don’t need to. The deep water and faster currents in the middle of the river are not productive fly water, but the edges are.”

TU Initiatives: By uniting community members, politicians and other sportsmen’s groups (like the National Wildlife Federation and Backcountry Hunters and Anglers), Trout Unlimited successfully advocated for the creation of Browns Canyon National Monument, which protects this natural treasure that serves as an economic engine for the region. According to the Chaffee County Visitors Bureau, lodging tax revenue in the county increased almost 10 percent in the year following designation.

TU continues to champion the clean-up of the region’s abandoned mines; to facilitate such clean-up, we are advocating for Good Samaritan legislation that would add significant capacity to the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts, while also minimizing liabilities for non-federal entities working on remediation efforts.

Make a difference: Take Action today to protect public lands like Browns Canyon National Monument. Visit Standup.tu.org to tell decision makers that you oppose proposals that would weaken the Antiquities Act or rescind or diminish any national monuments.

By Shauna Stephenson. Shauna Stephenson has been a writer, photographer, communicator and conservationist for nearly two decades, the past decade being spent at Trout Unlimited, working on projects…