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Escaping the Fall Angler Hatch

By Michael McMillan


Fall in Colorado’s high country is an absolutely enchanting season. It is a time when the leaves are changing, the nights are cool, and the fishing is hot. October, in particular, is a very exciting time for fly anglers, as some of our fisheries offer the opportunity to find very large fish during their annual spawning runs. With the surge of large fish moving into certain rivers, however, comes an equal if not greater influx of fly guys from all over the world hunting that “fish of a lifetime.”


Unfortunately, this can create very crowded conditions on the river, with what some refer to as combat fishing becoming the norm, and has even resulted in violence and vandalism a time or two. Not to mention the detrimental impact that kind of pressure puts on our fisheries during their most important time of year. Social media further exacerbates the issue by really highlighting these spots and bringing in more anglers each year.


Let’s face it: we all love the pursuit of trophy sized fish.  I will be the first to admit that having a 25+ inch buck nasty brown at the end of your leader is a feeling like no other. And since the crowds aren’t going anywhere soon, there are measures, of course, that can be taken to safely pursue these fish. Educating yourself on Redd identification, proper wading techniques, and fish handling during the spawn season is of the upmost importance. Many great articles address this issue, including this recent blog by Justin Brenner, a very knowledgeable local guide:


This blog, though, is about altogether avoiding what I like to refer to as “the angler hatch.”  Now is a perfect time to explore new water and places that you may not have made it to during the summer months. There are many rivers and tributaries that offer an opportunity to find amazing fishing without the burden of crowds and constant pressure. Some of these spots are a no-brainer with very easy access, while others will warrant a little research and maybe even a few miles on the trail. For the angler who is willing to put in a little time and boot work, this kind of fishing can be very rewarding.


Most of our reservoirs in Southern Colorado are part of a river system, and therefore offer tributaries for potential spawning fish to move into. Although this is not always the case, it is very common to find brown trout, rainbows, and even an occasional kokanee Salmon moving into position for spawning this time of year. Most of these places are less sensationalized via social media and by local fly shops, and for good reason.


For example, the area above Tarryall Reservoir boasts a few miles of public access that are not heavily fished and offer the opportunity to find very healthy trout with minimal crowds. Two public sections allow access: one directly above the reservoir, and another just on the other side of Eagle Rock Ranch. These sections of river are easily accessible and require minimal hiking.


Another area worth exploring is the South Platte River above Cheesman Reservoir. This section was severely affected by the Hayman fire about 13 years ago, but since then has made a very strong recovery. The stigma from that fire has, however, stuck with the river and tends to keep anglers away from the area to this day. Access will require a little map reading and few miles of hiking, but the opportunity to find solitude and big fish is absolutely worth the adventure.


The Arkansas River is a great place to find big browns this time of year as well. With over a hundred miles of blue ribbon water available, there are sure to be a few yards with your name on it. Check out this recent report from staff member Vince Puzick on the area upstream from Salida:


With a little time and effort, you can find some amazing places to spend your fall days in solitude throwing tight loops to big trout. Stop by the Shop anytime for more info and current fishing reports. Remember conserving our beautiful fisheries begins with you. Tight lines out there ladies and gents.

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