South Platte River Fly Fishing


The South Platte River located in central Colorado initially flows southeast towards the town of Lake George then north-northeast towards and eventually through Denver. This is one of the finest, if not the premier fishery in Colorado. Rainbows and browns are found in tremendous numbers. The trout average impressive sizes and are often seen “gliding” in the currents of this clear flowing river. Be sure to check with the special regulations as many of the river’s sections have different regulations.

The South Platte flows through several lakes and reservoirs on its course towards Denver. Many of the areas below and above these lakes and reservoirs are exciting and productive fisheries. The most popular and probably most productive section of the river is below Cheesman Reservoir and Dam. Another productive stretch of river is above and below Spinney Mountain Reservoir. Here, browns and especially rainbows have been known to reach immense sizes.

Lake George

Approximately 20 miles west of the town of Lake George the main South Platte is formed from the junction of the South and Middle Forks. The South and Middle Forks are both quality fisheries. The Middle Fork is a freestone fishery since it is a free flowing stream. The South Fork is a freestone fishery above Antero Reservoir and a tail-water below the reservoir.

These fisheries are home to resident as well as migratory fish that enter the South Platte and eventually up the branches of this fine river from Spinney Mountain Reservoir to spawn. Spawning rainbows, cutthroats and browns can be caught here many of which are 20 inches or better. Access to these areas can be found along Routes 24 and 9, US285 and side roads leading from these areas. Often a short hike in to the river is required. This area is known as the water above Spinney Reservoir and averages from 15 to 30 feet wide. Beautiful riffles, runs and pools make up the majority of this section.

Below Spinney Reservoir

Below Spinney Reservoir the South Platte is an intense tail-water fishery and is known as the “Spinney Mile” even though it is actually a section three miles long that feeds Eleven Mile Reservoir. The trout here average approximately 17 inches and trout of enormous size can be caught during the spring and fall when they migrate in to the river from Eleven Mile reservoir to spawn. These trout sometimes reach thirty plus inches. Most spawning fish, however, are between 18-24 inches.

Long riffles, deep runs and enticing pools are found here while the river averages nearly a hundred feet wide. Scuds are one of the main food sources in this section although there is a variety of other mayflies and insects to get their attention. Cord 59 (CR59) crosses “Spinney Mile” and is the main road leading to this area. From the Lake George area and Route 24 follow the signs for Spinney Mountain and Eleven Mile Reservoirs. Open grassland and rolling hills make up the surrounding terrain. Access can be found in a few areas one of which is called South Park.

Below Eleven Mile Reservoir

Downstream from Eleven Mile Reservoir the river flows through a canyon known as “Eleven Mile Canyon” and is once again a great fishery. Quality trout are found throughout this area. This is a longer section then the previous extending nine miles (not eleven miles like its name depicts) down to Lake George. This area is well protected from the wind, which is a factor on much of the river. Below Lake George there is more productive water before reaching Cheesman Reservoir.

Below Cheesman Reservoir

Below Cheesman Reservoir is perhaps the most popular and productive stretch of river. Access to the section between the dam and Deckers is usually granted after a sizable hike in to a canyon. The water here is made up mostly of pockets, pools, and riffles. The surrounding land is steep and getting back to your car is often the most difficult part of the day. However, if you ask most anglers if the hike is worth it you will most often be answered with a hasty “yes”.

This is a tremendous section of river to fish. The Gill Trail is located off of CR126 and is the major access point for the water between the dam and Deckers. This area, even though a little more difficult to access, is one of hardest fished sections on this river. At Deckers you will find easier access. From Deckers the river flows for several more miles through productive water towards Strontia Spring Reservoir and Platte Canyon Reservoir. After flowing through Plate Canyon Reservoir the South Platte approaches Denver and becomes less productive as it nears the city limits.


Overall, nymphs are the most productive flies on this river during the course of the season. Scuds, brassies, hares ears, pheasant tails, zug bugs, prince nymphs, midges, stoneflies, and other popular nymphs produce fish on a consistent basis. Streamers are also very productive especially for some of the migratory fish that enter the river from the different reservoirs. Woolly buggers and matukas are popular and productive streamers.


Hatches on the South Platte can be very prolific especially certain ones. The three major mayfly hatches include Blue-wing Olives (baetis), Pale Morning Duns, and Tricos. The Blue-wings hatch during the spring and fall especially on overcast or rainy days. Pale Morning Duns can be found on the river during June and July. Tricos start to appear in late July and can last through October. Midges, stoneflies, caddis, terrestrials and a couple of other mayflies also hatch or appear and produce their share of fish.

Hatch Chart

InsectSizeBegin DateEnd DateBest Time
Midge16-24April 1November 30all day
BWO16-22April 1May 30morning
BWO16-24April 1May 30morning and afternoon
Midge26-26April 1November 30all day
Scud12-16April 1November 30N/A
Streamers2-10April 1November 20morning and afternoon
Streamers2-10April 1November 30morning and afternoon
Golden Stone10-18April 15June 15morning and afternoon
PMD14-22May 15June 30morning and afternoon
Caddis10-22May 15September 15afternoon and evening
Caddis10-20May 15July 30morning and afternoon
PMD14-22June 1August 30morning
Golden Stone12-18June 1July 15morning
Attractors8-16July 1September 30afternoon and evening
Terrestrials8-12July 1September 30afternoon
Trico16-24July 15September 15morning
BWO16-22October 15November 15morning

If your going to be in Colorado near Denver or Colorado Springs or just looking to plan a fly fishing vacation give the South Platte River a try. It is a class trout fishery that produces trophy trout year after year. The closest commercial airports are in Denver and Colorado Springs.

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