Photos and Story: Late Spring Luck on the Lower Arkansas River

Written by: Chuck Coolidge

The author poses with a rainbow he spotted first. Then he fed it The Ninja.

The Arkansas River—which runs through the middle of Pueblo, Colorado—is known to produce great fishing from November to April. Starting in May, the snowmelt from the Rockies begins to pick up, and the fishing becomes much more difficult. So what happens when it’s May 21st, and as you drive from Denver to Pueblo, it snows six inches?  You cross your fingers.  Then, when you discover that the dam discharge has been dropped about 300cfs, to about 600cfs, you hit the gas!

Always check the dam discharge to get a better understanding of the water you’re fishing.

On the way into any new territory, we always call into the local fly shop to learn what’s happening in their backyard. It’s one thing I always appreciate about our sport. Of course, there are also several ways to ask for help online, including the Orvis Fishing Reports, and there’s always someone willing to give you a tip.  

When we called The Drift Fly Shop in Pueblo, we got some depressing news. “Well, you’re pretty off season, so the fishing isn’t great. Our owner was out yesterday on a drift boat fishing streamers and didn’t get a single hit. But I went out yesterday and did pretty well with a fly one of our guys makes here called The Ninja.”

A Japanese assassin turned into a fly? What a no brainer! We made sure to swing by the shop and grab a few of these, in sizes 22 and 24, as well as another local bloodworm fly they put their spin on as well.

We piled into our friend Connell O’Grady’s car—he’s a local guide—and headed towards the water. His favorite part of late-season fishing is spotting-and-stalking trout. This is almost impossible without a good pair of polarized sunglasses, of course. Look for water disruption or shadows moving to the surface.  

The locals always seem to get on the fish first. . . .

To up our chances of hooking up, we put together a triple-fly rig (which is legal in Colorado) and targeted the nervous water below rocks. This proved immensely successful. The key was to run your setup just on the edge of the fast water and keep your fly line off the water altogether. The fish in these waters are under a lot of angling pressure and have become increasingly wary of colored strike indicators and fly lines on the water.

When water levels are good, the Arkansas is a remarkably productive fishery.

Lastly, wherever you’re fishing, make sure to lift your head every now and then. There are some amazing birds (even the hundreds of them circling around you feeding), raptors, and wildlife cruising around the river. Take advantage of this extremely long winter weather while you can!

Chuck Coolidge lives in Phoenix, Arizona, and travels a lot to feed his fly-fishing passion. For information on fishing the Arkansas, you can also check out Royal Gorge Anglers.

The Ninja strikes again!

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