Arkansas River Tailwater, Pueblo
Known locally as the Pueblo Tailwater, the Arkansas River below Lake Pueblo dam is quickly earning a reputation as Colorado’s best winter fly fishing destination. If you are accustomed to fishing the upper Arkansas River, from the Royal Gorge up to the headwaters, the Pueblo tailwater may catch you off guard. The nine miles of river below Lake Pueblo dam are nothing like its upriver cousin. This is a tailwater in all respects, but a unique one at that.
So what makes the Pueblo Tailwater unique? For starters, it has one of the largest stream improvement projects ever completed in Colorado. In 2004 and 2005, a multimillion-dollar stream improvement project was completed that deepened the stream channel and added rock weirs and boulder gardens to the nine river miles between the dam and the confluence of Fountain Creek. Between 2012 and 2013, a second phase of impovements was completed which added even more structure, including the use of large cottonwood timbers. Most of the improvements are concentrated on the six and half mile stretch from the 4th street bridge up to the dam and this is the stretch of water most important to fisherman. These improvements, combined with better in-stream flows, have led to a significant increase in both the size and number of fish.
Another unique characteristic is the tailwaters elevation and high desert location. At 4,600 ft, it is the lowest elevation tailwater trout fishery in the state. The low elevation and warm climate has a profound impact on the effective fishing seasons, as well as the important insect hatches.
Due to high irrigation releases from June to late August the tailwater is challenging to fish in the summer. The water is also very stained in July and August and discourages many anglers from wetting a line regardless of flows. Once dam releases subside in September, water clarity improves, wading becomes much easier, and the fishing really turns on. I would call September and October the tailwaters “summer” season. Turnover occurs on Lake Pueblo at the end of October and finishes by early November. This two – three week period sees stained water and a general decline in fishing quality. But worry not, by November 15th, the beginning of the “Winter Water Storage Program”; water clarity returns to normal and flows remain steady until March 15th. This is “Peak Season” on the tailwater. November and December I consider to be our fall fishing, with January and February being the closest thing to winter fishing you will find on this fishery. While flows typically rise after March 15th, you can generally bet on good fishing well into April, and in some years early May. This last period is the tailwaters spring season, and is most similar to other tailwaters. When “runoff” starts in May on the upper river, flows below the dam typically increase in direct correlation and wade fishing becomes much more difficult.
Now that you have a better understanding of the Pueblo tailwater’s seasons, the following info on hatches should make sense. As expected from most tailwaters, the insect hatches are less diverse compared to our large freestone rivers, especially with regard to the larger invertebrates. The most notable absentee insects being the stoneflies. However, the duration and intensity of hatches is excellent, and what it may lack in diversity, it makes up for in sheer numbers. Caddis and Trico hatches extend into late November and early December and are the prime hatches during September and October. The small beatis commonly seen on the mountain streams in September generally hatch from late September to early December.
The larger BWO’s (size 16 & 18) don’t start hatching here until mid November and will continue strong through December. At this time, BWO’s should be the main focus in your fly arsenal, but don’t overlook the lingering caddis and tricos. Midge also play a significant role at this time of year and will soon take center stage come January and February. It is a rarity to find a day in the winter when there is not a strong midge hatch. The dry fly fishing this provides is one reason so many anglers are drawn to the tailwater in the winter months.
(When conditions are right you will still see decent BWO hatches in January and February so don’t be caught unprepared)
As March approaches, midge remain the dominant hatch as the spring BWO’s usually don’t start hatching in great numbers until water temps rise into the mid 40’s. However, BWO nymphs are very abundant and are top producers when there is not a midge hatch occurring. March also triggers the tailwater bows to start their spring spawn and egg patterns become a top attractor fly. In April, BWO’s start to outnumber midge in hatch intensity and some of the best dry fly of the year can be had. The beatis hatch continues well into June but is often “lost” in the high flows that accompany May and June.
Please note that effective January 1st, 2011, special regulations were enacted on the tailwater which allows for fishing by artificial flies and lures only, with all trout 16″ and above to be released, from the Pueblo Blvd bridge up to the Valco bridge. A short section near the Nature Center remains standard regs and is clearly posted.
In 2007, the Pueblo Tailwater was featured in Fly Fishing Magazine and was named Colorado Best new tailwater.
Upper Arkansas River
The Arkansas River is a dynamic freestone fishery. Water temperatures rise and fall over the course of a day, the sun beats down or clouds move in, the angle of the light or the barometric pressure or the wind changes. Tied to these environmental forces, the river’s aquatic insect populations go through different stages of their life cycles, become more active or dormant, and in doing so become more or less available to the fish. It’s a rare day that fish won’t eat. More often, the angler is challenged to figure out what it is they will eat and where in the river they’d prefer to eat it.
At 4,600 surface acres of water, Lake Pueblo is located about 5 miles west of Pueblo. As a fishery, Lake Pueblo is a plethora of diversity. This body of water is home to largemouth, smallmouth, and spotted bass, wiper, walleye, crappie, carp, channel and blue catfish, sunfish, and trout. The reservoir has two full service marinas and an assortment of campsites, though if you plan of camping it is strongly encouraged to make reservations as this is a busy place during the summer. The boats ramps are open from 5am to 11pm daily, unless inclement weather makes launching unsafe was is rare.
The Valco Ponds are located in Lake Pueblo State Park, just off Hwy 96. Three of the four Valco ponds are open to the public for fishing. They hold a variety of warm water species including bluegill, small mouth bass, and catfish. The ponds are easily accessed from the Valco Parking Lot, which requires the purchase of a State Parks Parking Pass, which if you don’t already have one can be purchased from the Kiosk at the parking lot. Float Tubes/Belly Boats are allowed in ponds number 1 and 2, but all other water crafts including pontoon boats and kayaks are not.
Lake Isabel is located in the beautiful San Isabel National Forrest, about 40 miles southwest of Pueblo along HWY 165. Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps for the soul purpose of recreation, this lake boasts a heavy population of stocked Rainbow and Brown trout. Fed by the St. Charles creek, Brooke Trout find their way into its waters as well. These trout tend to be highly opportunistic and can offer great dry fly fishing during the summer months. Lake Isabel is open to non-motorized boating, and paddle boats can be rented on site as well. Walk-in tent sites are 15 to 50 yards from the parking areas. RV sites come with electric hookups. Lake Isabel is privately managed and requires the purchase of a daily parking pass. State Parks passes are not valid at this lake.
Wahatoya Lake Reservoir
Positioned in the quaint city of La Veta along Bear Creek Rd (CR 358), only about 65 miles from Pueblo, Wahatoya offers a wonder of fishing possibilities. The waters hold Rainbow and Brown trout, Bass and Tiger Muskie. Wahatoya is restricted to flies and lures only. Camping is not permitted. Only boats propelled by hand or by wind are allowed. While this is a perfect water for a float tube or pontoon boat, shore access if also good.
North Lake is located on the Scenic Highway of Legends, about 30 miles south of La Veta on HWY 12 (about 90 miles from Pueblo) It was constructed in 1907 to create a water supply for the City of Trinidad. The lake is stocked with rainbow, brown, and cutthroat trout, kokanee salmon, splake, and recently tiger trout. With all of the trout species availible it is a great place to achieve a grand slam. North Lake is restricted to fly and lure fishing only. The lake has a boat ramp and restrooms. Crafts may be propelled only by hand, wind, or electric motors.
Spinney Mountain Reservoir
No matter how you pronounce it Spinney is a spectacular trout fishery. The health of the Rainbow population has given Spinney a Gold Medal water status, a distinction given to only a handful of Colorado Lakes. At a 2,500 surface-acre size this reservoir is home to Rainbows, Browns, Cutbows, Yellow Perch, and Northern Pike. About 110 miles from Pueblo, Spinney offers fly fishing from both shore and boat alike. Inspections are mandatory for all trailed vessels. There is no camping at Spinney, but camping facilities are available at its neighbor Eleven Mile State Park.
Lathrop State Park
What’s better than one fishy lake? TWO! Lathrop State Park is located 3 miles west of Walsenburg (about 53 miles from Pueblo). There are two lakes at the park, Martin and Horseshoe. Both lakes hold bass, walleye, northern pike, saugeye, blue gill, trout, carp, and catfish. Horseshoe Lake is also known for its large tiger muskies. Martin Lake allows water skiing, power and sail boating. Horseshow Lake is reserved as a wakeless waters. Camping opportunities are abundant at Lathrop State Park, with two campgrounds there are 103 sites which can accommodate motor homes, trailers and tents.