Gazette Article - How To Properly Handle Trout!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Breath Of Fresh Water

The South Platte River is an amazing fishery with great variety and abundant challenges that keep anglers coming back.  One particular stretch of this river was devastated by a massive fire in 2002.  The Hayman fire was the largest and most destructive fire ever recorded in Colorado history. The debris and sediment from the fire that washed into the South Platte from Cheesman Reservoir down past the town of Deckers layed waste to what was once a healthy trout population that called this stretch home.  After the fire came flooding which added insult to injury by spilling tons more sediment into the river from Deckers down stream and fishermen of all types began to wonder if the once legendary fishing in this region would ever recover.

Hayman Fire burn area photo by Kristen Patrocky

Ask anybody fortunate enough to fish Deckers before all that destruction and they will tell you about the glory days when abundant plant life produced great beatis and trico hatches and the fishing was epic. Most experienced guides and fishermen like Colorado Springs resident and professional guide Rick Murphy who has seen Deckers in its prime agree that quote "it will never be the same river".  Anglers Covey shop manager Steve Gossage told me that he talked to a fishery biologist that said it would take at least 25 years for Deckers to make a complete recovery.

Hayman Fire burn area photo by Kristen Patrocky

Every single person that said Deckers will never be the same is still right.  Years later it isn't the same river but It has made some semblance of a recovery.  The water is a lot cleaner than it used to be and a lot of the vegetation and bug life that was prevalent before the Hayman fire has been replaced by gravel and wood debris.  The same gravel and wood debris that several different caddis flies use to make cases.

David Eggers a passionate angler and client of mine with a nice Deckers
 bow caught on a caddis larva.

In-fact the caddis hatch has become so thick above the town of Deckers in the spring that it rivals the famous "Mother's Day" hatch on the Arkansas River.  If your fishing a nymph rig and you hit bottom you have my 100 percent guarantee that you will come up with a caddis case every time... Just kidding.  Never trust a fishermen that claims he is good with numbers.  Especially when it comes to the measurement of inches and pounds.   You will notice that a good portion of the times your rig scrapes bottom you'll have either an empty or full caddis case attached to your hook.  In other words there is still great dry fly fishing to be had here if you fish in the spring or during a calm late summer/fall evening.

There are still sparse Blue Winged Olive mayfly hatches or "BWOs" as well.  However I haven't seen a single trico hatch anywhere lower than the family hole in lower Cheesman Canyon which is a few miles up river from Deckers past the Wigwam club.  The Wigwam club owns a private stretch of the S. Platte which is located between Deckers and Cheesman and is known for holding large browns and rainbows that will occasionally stray down or up river where there is public access.  Fish like this lit up rainbow landed is a common occurrence!

Last winter I went on a trip to Deckers and found beatis (BWOs) and midges with eager and respectable trout.  It was a gorgeous 45 degree day with no wind and lots of sun.  The kind of day most winter warriors dream of.  We put in at the first parking area above the bridge and worked our way up stream while throwing a combination of either a red SanJuan worm or an apricot Bling Bug followed by small red midges or a gray RS-2.

Jon Easdon owner of Blindside Ski and Snowboard and myself are not the only people aware of the fact that this place is still fishing great and due to its close proximity to Denver Deckers receives a lot of pressure from anglers, and even though there is a lot of fishable water most of these trout have first and last names and zip codes.  One of the things I have never minded as long as other anglers demonstrate proper fishing etiquette is the crowds.  Pressure on the fish means they will be tougher to catch and I enjoy the challenge.  As Jon Easdon said when I met up with him soon after he released a fish "I forgot how much fricken fun this is!".

It is common practice by guides and fishermen that live within reasonable driving distance during the peak of summer to not take trips or fish in the area if flows are low and water temps are high so as to give the trout the best possible chance for survival.  If the flows and temps are adequate casting a nymph rig with some form of PMD (like a pheasant tail nymph) with a midge dropper behind it (such as Murphy's Bubbleback midge) in faster pocket water can be deadly.  If your one of those guys that just wants to throw big beefy streamers looking for bigger fish then the summer months can be a great time for that as well.

Large stoneflies are in the river system year around and good nymph imitations are Prince nymphs or a Pat's Rubber Leg nymph.  Again when Im fishing these patterns it is usually during the warmer months or higher flows and Im typically looking for actively feeding fish in faster pocket water or I am dredging the bottom of deeper pools with a lot of weight on my leader in order to get down to bigger fish.  I haven't personally seen an actual stonefly hatch but it doesn't hurt to have adult imitations of the bug.  Good Patterns for adult "stone's" are Amy's Ants or Stimulator's.

Pat's Rubber Leg Stonefly photo by Jon Kleis

Yellow Stimulator photo by Jon Kleis

The warmer months are great for wet wading.  Waders are awesome for keeping you warm and dry, but when the high temperature for the day is in the nineties it feels great to walk around in a pair of shorts with an old pair of tennis shoes or a good pair of wet wading shoes and stand in the river to keep cool.  When you are wading be careful during higher flows.  Last year during spring run-off Deckers got well over a thousand c.f.s. (cubic feet per second) which is a very dangerous flow to wade and makes fishing a lot tougher as well.  Fish tend to stay close to the banks or they hang out in front of boulders where there is breaking water during high flows and playing a fish in fast water under those conditions with light leaders and tippet and small flies doesn't usually spell success.

One of my favorite pics of me playing a Cheesman Canyon bow
Photo by Daniel Zimmerman

Ideal flows for this region are from 150 c.f.s. to 250 c.f.s.  For stream flow reports go to the Colorado Division of Water Resources at  As for gear during chilly conditions when its important to stay dry Simms sells quality breathable waders made with layered Gore-Tex that come with a great warranty and are extremely durable.  Orvis also has a new boot foot wader that has a cleated Bog boot that will keep winter anglers warm and dry.  Bring a 9 ft. 5 weight fly rod and 9 ft. 5x and 6x leaders and tippet and some split shot.

My Mojo Midge photo by Daniel Zimmerman
Flies to have in your box are: Elk Hair caddis size 14-18, Barr's Graphic caddis size 16-18, Buckskins size 18-20, Pat's rubber leg size 10, various Stimulators, Prince nymphs size 12-16, Apricot eggs size 16-18, San juan worms size12-16, Pheasant tail nymphs size 18-22,  RS-2's in black and gray size 20-24, South Platte Brassie's size 20-24, Murphy's Bubbleback Midge size 22, Kleis's Mojo midge size 22, Parachute adams size 20-26, Olive and Black Slumpbusters.

To set up a guided trip with me on the South Platte river shoot me an email at

Jon Kleis Orvis endorsed guide, author, and Colorado native


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