Way Out West, Part Two: The South Platte River

I’d known about the South Platte for years, but never got the itch to go fish it, until I did — and now I am faced with a matter of difficult settlement: my favorite trout water is almost 2,000 miles away.

It’s so easy to fall in love with the South Platte. Since it’s a tailwater, it’s a viable fishery year-round. It’s got so much productive water that you could very likely stumble into fish (and if you know how to read water, you could quickly become a dangerous machine). In addition to being cold — I didn’t take a temperature, but it had to be high 40s-low 50s — the water is clear enough that the eagle-eyed among us can sight fish for trout. And the trout — ah, the trout — are fat and feisty and fantastic. Plus, there are lots of them. Subsurface invertebrates are everywhere and provide the trout with a daily smorgasbord. It’s almost like someone imagined, then created a trout theme park fantasyland. Really, it’s that good.

Early morning on the first day. Cam might be contemplating the fish at his feet, or the sheer beauty of his surroundings. These streamside boulders are typical of the South Platte in Cheesman Canyon, and sometimes these behemoths are in the river proper. Along with the smaller boulders, it makes for the kind of structure trout love. On both days, my experience was: find one fish, and there are a bunch more close by. I think we saw a half dozen other anglers on Wednesday. Friday, the “crowded” day, maybe twice that many. I fear that western anglers would be mortified by the hordes on eastern streams.
Afternoon on the first day. The water is at 250cfs and running with breathtaking clarity. It was easy to pick out fish, especially if you knew where to look (on day one they were holding in riffly moving water 1-2 feet deep). This slot extended far down the glide past where I was standing when I took this photo. Both Cam and I hooked fish along the entire length of this wrinkled water center stream.
Day two. The water is up to 300cfs. Our guide, Chris Steinbeck of the Blue Quill Angler, said that Thursday morning the water had some color, but cleared up after noon. I think I liked this height better; having no experience to compare to, I’d call this flow medium. Here’s what’s so wonderful about the South Platte: there are fish everywhere. Compare to the Farmington, where there are vast stretches (especially now) of unproductive water. I caught more brag-book trout in an hour on the South Platte than I might in a month on the Farmington. If you can read water, and make adjustments like weight and indicator position, and perform quality drifts, there’s no reason why you can’t do likewise. Cam doesn’t fly fish, and he stuck over a dozen trout on day one.
I believe the river is so productive because of the high percentage of viable water. The analogy I came up with was the South Platte is like a high-gradient northeast wild brookie stream, times 10 in size. See what I mean?
A so-ugly-it’s-beautiful golden stonefly from Chris’ Friday sampling. We also came up with midges and baetis and PMD nymphs. There were a couple stray salmon flies flitting about over the course of both outings. Not shown: scuds, an important food source for South Platte trout. I creamed ’em the first day with Pat Dorsey’s UV Scud.
Compared to the Farmington and the Housatonic, wading the South Platte is a walk in the park. Absent the fast-moving, deeper sections, this was about as tricky as the footing got. (I still don’t see why the possibility of falling in should prevent me from getting into the best position to catch that fish — although I’m pleased to report that I did not go swimming on the South Platte.) Much of the river is granite sheets and smaller gravel bottom. Bottom snags were few and far between; I didn’t lose a single rig the entire trip. As you can see, the rocks are covered with this mossy vegetation, hence the substantial scud population. Clearing weeds off of flies and rigs was a constant task, although it served as a good reminder that my presentations were where they should be. Coming next: Part 3 — The Fishing.

2 comments on “Way Out West, Part Two: The South Platte River

  1. Jonny says:

    Great read! There is a beauty in all the “ugliness” as you easterners call it. I’ll be out there early Sunday morning!

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