The Arkansas River Tailwater in Pueblo

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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.  Click the preceding link to read Pat Dorsey's article on this up and coming fishery.