Colorado Fly Fishing Vacation Guide
Overview of the South Platte Drainage
The South Platte River watershed is located on the eastern side of the Continental Divide of Colorado. The South Platte River is one of two tributaries to flow into the Platte River. The other, the North Platte River, begins in Colorado but flows through Wyoming and joins the South Platte in North Platte, Nebraska.
The South Platte River basin begins its flow towards Denver high in the mountains to the North, West and East of Leadville in the Mosquito range. This drainage flows into two tributaries, the Middle Fork and South Fork of the South Platte.
The eastern edge of the Middle fork drainage starts in the Mosquito range to the west of Hoosier Pass on US 285. The headwaters are located on the continental divide. This section of the tributary flows to the south from the Continental Divide into the Tarryall Creek area in South Park near Jefferson, CO. Tarryall Creek is impounded by Tarryall Reservoir in South Park and joins the South Platte River below Lake George, CO.
The western edge of the Middle Fork drainage starts in the mountains along the continental divide near Boreas Pass on CO Hwy 9 and flows to the south past the towns of Alma and Fairplay, CO. Further to the Southwest the Mosquito range continues to border South Park and continue to add to the Middle Fork. The Middle Fork flows to the Southeast towards the town of Hartsel, CO where it joins the South Fork of the Platte.
Weston Pass is a few miles to the south of Fairplay. Weston Pass crosses the Mosquito Range to the west and connects Fairplay with Leadville, CO. The South Fork of the South Platte begins in this area and flows to the southeast into Antero Reservoir. The South Fork joins the Middle Fork and becomes the South Platte River near the town of Hartsel, CO.
The South Platte below Hartsel to Denver:
Below Hartsel, the South Platte flows into a series of impoundments including Spinney Mountain Reservoir and Eleven Mile Reservoirs in the upper stretch, and Cheesman, Strontia Springs and Chatfield Reservoirs. Most of these impoundments are used for supplying the cities of Denver and Colorado Springs with water and flood protection.
North Fork of the South Platte:
The North Fork of the South Platte River is a tributary of the South Platte River and flows down the east side of the continental divide instead of the western side as does the middle and south forks.
Like the Middle and South Fork, the North Fork begins at the continental divide in the Mosquito Range, a little further to the east near Webster Pass. For a portion of its course it follows US 285 and is joined by several streams along the way. The major contributor to the North Fork is the water that is diverted under the Mosquito Range through the Roberts Tunnel from the Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, CO. The water is added to the North Fork just above the town of Grant, CO. The North Fork continues its course where it is joined by the South Platte below Deckers, and is impounded by the Strontia Springs Reservoir.
To South Park Area
Depending on where you want to fish, one of the most direct routes to the South Park area (Fairplay) from Denver is to drive south on US 285. There is access to the headwaters of the Middle Fork between Jefferson and Leadville or turn left at Jefferson (CR 77) onto Tarryall Rd. to access Tarryall Reservoir. Continuing on US285, at Fairplay you can continue to Antero Reservoir or US 24 to Hartsel and Lake George. From Fairplay a more direct route to Hartsel is to take CO Hwy 9 South.
To Cheesman Canyon
To access Cheesman Canyon and the Deckers area from Denver, one route is to take US 285 to Pine Junction and turn south on CR 126 to the Gill Trailhead parking area (Cheesman Canyon) or continue to CO Hwy 67 at Deckers. Another route from Denver is to drive to Sedalia and take CO Hwy 67 to Deckers. Turn right at Deckers onto CR 126 to the Gill Trailhead parking area.
To fish the lower section of the North Fork up to the Deckers area is to drive south on US 285 to the town of Conifer. Just to the the west of Conifer is an exit to Foxton Road (CO Hwy 96). Drive south until you reach the Platte River. Turn left onto SW. Platte River Road and continue downstream until you reach the confluence of the North Fork and the South Platte River. To get to Deckers, turn right onto N. Platte River Rd (CO Hwy 97) at the confluence and continue upstream.
To Waterton Canyon
Closer to Denver one can fish Waterton Canyon by driving south on S. Wadsworth Blvd (CO 121) past Chatfield Reservoir. Turn onto Waterton Rd. and Park at the Kassler Center parking area. Walk up the trail towards Strontia Springs Reservoir (6.5 miles).
From Colorado Springs:
The most direct route to the South Platte is to take US 24. This will take you through Woodland Park, where you can take CO Hwy 67 to Deckers, or stay on US 24 to Lake George where you can access Eleven Mile Canyon (CR 112) or Drive to Tarryall Reservoir (CR 77). Continuing on US 24 will take you to the town of Hartsel or on to US 285.
From Summit County:
Take CO Hwy 9 south out of Breckenridge to Fairplay. From here you can take US 285 to Antero Reservoir or continue on CO Hwy 9 to Hartsel.
From Buena Vista:
Take US 285 out of Johnson Village to the junction of US 24 at Antero Reservoir. Continuing on US 285 will take you to Fairplay or turn right onto US 24 to go to Hartsel, Lake George or Woodland Park.
South Platte River Access Highway Map
Click HERE for a larger map
There are several major cities and smaller towns that support fly fishing on South Platte River. Following are links to a few of the town’s web pages and additional resources:
When traveling west towards Fairplay, these are the last major towns with good shopping. There are grocery stores, gas stations and restaurants in both Aspen Park and Conifer.
Bailey is the last opportunity to get gasoline and snacks before Jefferson, in South Park.
Fairplay is the jumping off point to many of the fly fishing opportunities in South Park. It offers a grocery store, restaurants, some lodging and gasoline stations.
Hartsel is a small stop prior to entering the Spinney Mtn. State Park. It offers a store with snacks, fishing tackle and gasoline.
Deckers is a small town just below Cheesman Canyon. It offers a store with snacks and gasoline, a restaurant and a fly shop.
Woodland Park is on the route between Colorado Springs and Hartsel. It’s a fairly large town with plenty of lodging, restaurants and several good fly fishing shops.
To the west of Woodland Park on US 24. It is a small town that offers a store with fishing supplies, snacks and gasoline.
Fly Fishing Shops, Lodging, and Other Local Resources
Fly Fishing Field Guide
The Middle Fork of the South Platte starts in the high mountains to the North of US 285 and is comprised of numerous smaller high mountain streams. As the streams begin to merge together in South Park, the Middle Fork becomes a classic meandering meadow stream with riffles, benches and undercut banks.
Located near the south side base of Hoosier Pass, Montgomery Res. is stocked with rainbow trout each year. Fish in this lake can be caught on flies, lures and bait. Many anglers fish the spillway below the dam, but you can bank fish the entire shoreline of the reservoir as well.
Fly fish the stream above the Reservoir. This is a small stream with lots of brush. Contains cascades and plunge pools. Contains Brook Trout.
Wheeler Lakes are reached by driving or hiking on a rugged four-wheel-drive road west from Montgomery Reservoir for 3.5 miles. Wheeler Lakes, elevation is between 12,500 and 12,180 feet and offer fishing for cutthroat up to 10 inches.
From Alma, go 1 1/2 miles north on CO Hwy 9 to CR 4; then 1/4 mile northwest. Located near the bottom of Hoosier Pass, Alma SWA offers four miles of public (Colorado Parks and Wildlife) stream access along CR 4 between Alma and Montgomery Reservoir. The stream channel is small and brushy. Contains brown and brook trout.
The lake is located about 5 miles north of Jefferson on CR 37, north of Jefferson. Jefferson Lake covers 125 acres. Take County Road 35 to County Road 37. Go right on County Road 37 and follow it to the lake. Contains rainbow trout.
Jefferson Creek runs south out of Jefferson Lake. Similar to many of the streams in south park, it is thick with willows. There are also numerous beaver ponds. The creek runs through several miles of National Forest land but is interspersed with private land.
Teter-Michigan Creek SWA (Michigan Creek)
Take County Road 35 (same route as Jefferson Lake) to the Michigan Creek campground. The creek holds some brook trout, with an average between 8 to 10 inches.
Cline Ranch SWA
This site is located just north of Como on US 285. Fishing access is restricted to designated fishing areas (beats) only. Access to each fishing beat is restricted to occupants of the vehicle parked in the parking stall assigned to that beat (determined by corresponding number). No more than four anglers are allowed per vehicle, and only one vehicle is allowed per stall. This is a brushy, small stream. Fishing is prohibited from October 1 through the end of February. The site contains 2.7 miles of fishing access. Fish include brown and brook trout.
South Park Area
Town of Fairplay Access
Located across from the Riverside Inn Hotel in Fairplay. Also known as “Fairplay Beach”.
Tarryall Reservoir Fly Fishing
Tarryall Reservoir SWA
One mile of public fishing access above Tarryall Reservoir along County Road 77. Look for the parking area as you near the inlet of the reservoir. Contains brown and stocked rainbow trout.
About 300 yards of public fishing access below the outlet of Tarryall Reservoir.
Ute Trailhead Parking
Limited access for a short distance up and down stream of the footbridge. Contains brown and stocked rainbow trout.
Twin Eagles Trailhead
About 1/2 mile of public fishing access at Twin Eagles Trailhead by X Rock Campground along County Road 77. Contains browns and stocked rainbow trout.
Spruce Grove Campground
About 1/2 mile of public fishing access at Spruce Grove Campground along County Road 77. Daily parking fee is required by the Forest Service.
Five miles of public fishing access along the Middle Fork. Two access points to this area include the old town site of Garo and a couple of miles below on CO Hwy 9. This is a meandering meadow stream with pools, riffles and undercut banks. This section is designated as Gold Medal Water containing wild brown trout up to 18 inches with spawning browns that swim up from Spinney Mountain Reservoir in the fall.
Click HERE for a larger map
Badger Basin (Below Hartsel)
1. Located along the Middle Fork of the South Platte River between Tomahawk SWA (on the upper end) and Spinney Mountain SWA on the lower end.
2. From Hartsel take CR 439 off of US Hwy 24 (to the East). This section provides public access to the Middle Fork in three locations along CR 439 above Hartsel.
3. From Hartsel there is access to the South Fork East and West (towards Antero Reservoir) along US 24 along CO Hwy 9.
4. From Hartsel there are two access points along Fourmile Creek along CO Hwy 9 (going towards Fairplay).
5. From Hartsel, take US 24 to CR 59. There is one parking access point to the South Fork and one to the Middle Fork.
6. From Hartsel, take US 24 East towards Lake George. There is access just as the highway crosses the South Fork and additional access off of CR 443 after crossing the Middle Fork.
Click HERE for a larger map
This is Gold Medal Water containing wild brown trout up to 18 inches with spawning browns that swim up from Spinney Mountain Reservoir in the fall. Contains rainbow, brown, cutthroat, brown trout and northern pike.
There are several public access pull offs on the South Fork along CR 22 above Weston Pass Campground. Contains small brook trout.
Rough & Tumbling Creek
Located Southwest of Fairplay along the Upper South Fork of the South Platte River. Access is from two points along CR 22 (Weston Pass). The upper section requires a 1 - 3 mile hike from the Rich Creek Campground Trailhead. The lower section can be reached via Forest Roads 442. You will want an ATV or 4WD if you drive this. The stream contains brown and brook trout.
Knight – Imler SWA
Located 14 miles south of Fairplay on U.S. 285 above Antero Reservoir. There are two parking / access points along this stretch. Parking off of US 285 just past CR 22 when travelling south. This is a slow, meandering stream. See Badger Basin description in “Middle Fork South Park Area” above.
Click HERE for a larger map
63 Ranch SWA
There are two parking areas just off of US 285 (heading south) after you pass the Knight-Imler SWA. See Knight-Imler SWA (above).
Click HERE for a larger map
Badger Basin SWA (along US Hwy 24)
Located West of Hartsel, this section of the South Fork is a slow, meandering stream with some good holding areas. Contains wild browns trout and stocked rainbows.
The best fly fishing on the North Fork of The South Platte River occurs in the first few miles below the Roberts Tunnel. Most of the North Fork fishing access is on private property with only a few of pullouts located North on US 285 (most near Bailey). There are several well know fishing properties along this upper section that offer opportunities to catch some huge trout. Many fly fishing shops in Denver offer the opportunity to fish these properties with one of their guides.
At the town of Grant, take Park County Road 62 North. Geneva Creek runs along the side of the road. Just north of the Burning Bear campground, several creeks merge with Geneva Creek.
Again, much of this land between Bailey and the town of Pine is private property with private fishing club access only.
Pine Valley Ranch Park
Jefferson County Pine Valley Ranch Park is located at 30400 Crystal Lake Rd., Pine, CO. This section offers a couple of miles of fishing access. The park is located just up river from the town of Pine and includes public parking, toilets and picnic facilities.
Continuing down CO Hwy 126 from Pine is the town of Buffalo Creek. From Buffalo Creek to the confluence of the North Fork with the South Platte there are numerous pull offs and parking areas for fishing. Much of the water is fast and runs through narrows with large boulders, pocket water and deep pools. Most of this area does not have a catch and release policy so the fish may be on the smaller side.
The South Platte River begins just below the town of Hartsel, at the confluence of the Middle and South Fork of the South Platte River. From here the river flows through the lower part of the Badger Basin State Wildlife area and into Spinney Mountain Reservoir. At the tailwater of Spinney is the Charlie Meyer State Wildlife Area (aka “The Dream Stream”) into Eleven Mile Reservoir. The tailwater of Eleven Mile Reservoir flows into Eleven Mile Canyon and offers some spectacular fly fishing. These areas offer miles of fishing opportunities with each section providing their own unique character.
Spinney Mountain SWA
The South Platte River begins at the confluence of the Middle and South Forks. Spinney Mountain SWA is located on CR 59 below the Badger Basin SWA. There are two parking areas into the Spinney Mountain SWA off of CR 59 requiring a short walk to the river.
Click HERE for a larger map
Charlie Meyers SWA (aka “The Dream Stream”)
The "Dream Stream" is located between Spinney Mountain Reservoir and Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir. It is a true tailwater fishery. Access this area from Hartsel by driving east 10.3 miles on HWY 24 to CR 23 (at mm250). Turn south onto CR 23 and travel 2.7 miles. Turn east onto CR 59 and continue for 2.3 miles to where County Roads 59 and 92 meet. Then turn south, staying on CR 59. Travel one mile to the entrance. There are three parking areas in this section. In addition, one can drive into the state park and drive across the reservoir and park at an additional parking facility.
This is a year round, Gold Medal Water fishery. There are some huge trout in this tailwater however they are heavily pressured and easily spooked. During the fall spawning season one can find large fish moving up from Elevenmile Canyon Reservoir to spawn.
Click HERE for a larger map
Eleven Mile Canyon
Eleven Mile Canyon Recreation Area is located below the dam of the Eleven Mile Reservoir. The canyon is forested, lush, and rocky. As the river is released from the dam above, its twists through this narrow boulder lined canyon creating numerous runs, pools pocket water and riffles. Access this area from US 24 in Lake George. Turn south on CR 96. At the fork in the road, veer right. There is an entrance fee (currently about $6) and an entrance station is manned during the day. This is a year-round fishery.
Wildcat Canyon Roadless Area
Wildcat Canyon’s 7,100 acres is a roadless, wild area, offering a wilderness experience. The river is both scenic and a riparian haven for wildlife and wild trout.
From Lake George take CR 77 for one mile to FR 211 and one mile to Happy Meadows Campground. Drive past the camp ground to Corral Creek and hike Approx. 3 miles into the canyon. This area was severely burned by the Haymen Fire which has impacted its scenery. GPS 39°2'16"N, 105°36'27"W.
This is some of the most technical fishing near Denver. From the parking lot, a short 1/2 hour hike up the Gill Trailhead #610 will take you to the bottom of the canyon where you can begin fishing. From this point you can follow the river or take the higher trail and access some of the upper stretches of this tailwater. The canyon contains huge boulders and very fast water, resulting in fast runs and large, deep pools. Contains brown and rainbow trout.
Located on CR 126 2.5 miles above Deckers.
Because of the water releases from Cheesman Reservoir, the waters near Deckers area are warm enough to remain a year-round fishery. It is located approximately an hour and a half from Denver and Colorado Springs and offers numerous pullouts along the road that parallels the river. There are many brown and rainbows in this area. In the upper section, near the bottom of Cheesman Canyon is the private Wig Wam Fishing Club. The fish in this area are reported to be huge. Fishermen below this area will occasionally catch some of the large fish that escape the club’s waters. Below Deckers you will find numerous riffles, runs and pools that are loaded with wary fish. Towards the bottom of the South Platte, where it meets the North Fork, the fish are smaller.
Because of its proximity to Denver, the fish in this area receive a lot of pressure and can be very spook. This area can be very crowded in the summer with campers, kayakers, motorcyclists and sightseers; especially on the weekends.
Waterton Canyon is the closest tailwater to metro Denver, with 5 miles of fishing. There is no vehicle access inside the canyon so you must bike or hike in. The upper 2 miles of the canyon, near Strontia Springs, is less crowded and offers better fishing. This section is restricted to flies and artificial lures only, with a two fish maximum. Contains browns and rainbow trout.
Click HERE for a larger map
The weather during Colorado’s high country summer is unpredictable. It can be sunny and cool in the morning and hot in the afternoon. By afternoon you may receive a thunder storm and by early evening it’s clear again. Be prepared. In the winter, dress warmly.
Following are a few items to consider bringing for wade fishing:
• Fishing License -
The first thing to bring when fly fishing is a license and know the local regulations. You can buy your license on line from the Colorado Parks and Recreation website or at Wal*Mart, may of the grocery stores and fly fishing shops in the area.
• Water, Food
• Sunscreen - The sun is intense at high altitude and you’ll get sunburned without it.
• Fishing Gear – A 4-6 weight rod and all the other gear you typically fish with.
• Rain Jacket
• Additional Layers (vest)
• Fly Fishing Boots
• Wading Staff
• Hat (see sunscreen)
Note: These are approximations. Actual conditions may change due to weather, runoff and other natural and man-made conditions.
For more complete fishing charts organized by location on the river, season and time-of-day, including fly suggestions, images, size and entomology, download the Virtual FlyBox iPhone application.
South Platte River Headwaters Hatch Chart
South Platte River Middle Fork Hatch Chart
South Platte River Charlie Meyers SWA Hatch Chart
South Platte River Eleven Mile Canyon and Cheesman Canyon Hatch Chart
South Platte River Deckers and Waterton Canyon Hatch Chart
The South Platte drains a huge portion of Colorado including the eastern portion of the Mosquito range in South Park Colorado. Along its path towards Denver there are 7 major impoundments that are used for metropolitan water, irrigation and flood control. In addition, water is diverted from Dillon Reservoir in Summit County, under the Mosquito range into the North Fork of the South Platte where it eventually flows into Strontia Springs Reservoir and used for Denver’s water supply.
The South Platte and its tributaries flow from high mountain streams to meandering meadows, tail waters and numerous steep rocky canyons on its way to North Platte Nebraska, where it joins the North Platte River.
This is a very diverse fishery, and in many sections it can be fished year round. The South Platte provide fishermen with two types of fly fishing experiences (freestone and tailwater fisheries) within close proximity of each other. To the east and west of US 285 are smaller freestone streams as well as in the Tomahawk State Wildlife area. Below that point are a series of tailwater fisheries. The advantage to this is, if one area is cloudy or “blown out”, another section should be fishable.
Some of these waters are world class fisheries. Fly fishermen travel from all over to fish Cheesman Canyon and the Dream Stream. Many of the areas are designated as Gold Medal waters.
Regardless of where you live, your ability or time of year, we think that you can find something that will suit your fishing preferences.
We hope you will take the opportunity to experience the amazing fishing on the South Platte River.
See you soon …
The folks at the Virtual FlyBox