Fly Fishing a Canyon Paradise – Bob Volpe


Trout don’t like to live in ugly places.

Of course there are degrees of beauty in all things. Elevenmile Canyon is an eleven on a scale of ten of places of natural beauty. This canyon is one of the most beautiful stretches of river in the entire South Platte drainage and arguably one of the most beautiful areas in all of Colorado. Perhaps that is why it attracts so many fly fishers.

Fly fishermen in general love the natural beauty of the places trout call home and the canyon provides easy access for them to cast a fly to a rising rainbow. The road through the canyon is on the old Midland Railroad bed that once ran from Colorado Springs to Leadville. The road ends at a gate just below the dam itself, which is now off limits for security reasons.

This road is one of the things that make the canyon such a popular area. It provides ample access to this entire section of river, although sometimes you have to descend very steep banks to get to certain spots.

While the convenience of having a road right next to the river, is a major plus, it is still the incredible fishing that makes the canyon a prized fishing destination.

The South Platte River in Elevenmile Canyon provides ideal conditions for a healthy population of trout. The water is cold and clear and insect life, a trout’s primary food source, thrives in the river thanks to the pristine environment. Because of the ideal conditions for trout food, this stretch of the river boasts the highest density of trout per square mile in the South Platte drainage.

As the river cuts through the canyon it drops 806’ in nine miles from the dam to the town of Lake George. On its way down from the dam the river sometimes rolls gently along and at times it is a raging torrent slicing through giant boulders and steep terrain. Every mile is full of feisty trout.

One of the nice things about Elevenmile Canyon is the hatch. Bugs, especially Blue Winged Olives (BWO’s), hatch all year long here. This is a place you can cast dry flies any time of the year and catch fish.

In the summer, Caddis, Pale Morning Duns (PMD’s), Stoneflies, and tricos join BWO’s in a mad orgy to perpetuate the species. Terrestrials like hoppers, beetles, and flying ants add to the dry fly concert for the dry fly fisherman.

Winter brings bone chilly cold to the canyon, but it is not enough to keep dedicated fly fishermen from layering up and casting away. The steeper sections of the canyon get very little sun in the winter and ice shelves extend several feet from the banks.

Trout in the canyon are the Honey Badgers of fish. They don’t care how cold it is outside. Being a “tailwater” (a river below a dam), the water temperatures remain fairly constant, because water is released from pipes in the bottom of the dam. The water at the bottom of the reservoir remains constant, above freezing even on the coldest of days.

These conditions make Elevenmile Canyon a rare place where hatching insects like BWO’s and midges take to the air even in the dead of winter and the happy fish who live there are eager to rise to a tasty bug floating by.

In recent years, there have been several severe wildfires that have impacted the South Platte River and all life that depend on the river. When wildfires pass through a river drainage, the aftermath is what is most destructive to the fishery.

With vegetation wiped out, and the soil burned so hot that it is nearly turned to glass, there is nothing to hold the rains from washing tons of ash, sediment, and debris into the river smothering fish and insect habitat.

Fortunately, Elevenmile Canyon has been spared the ravages of wildfire, which is major reason the river is still such a pristine habitat for trout.

Elevenmile Canyon Recreation Area is a great place to fish, camp, hike, mountain bike, or just sight see. It is also a premier rock climbing area. Summer time is the most active season and it can get very crowded on weekends.

The most coveted fishing spots fill up quickly anytime of year, but that doesn’t mean you will not find a place to catch fish. The entire river is chock full of browns, rainbows, cutthroat, and cutbows waiting to snatch a well presented fly.

There are four improved campgrounds and four picnic areas in the canyon. Dispersed camping is prohibited. All of the four campgrounds located in Elevenmile Canyon have toilets, water, tables and fire rings and can be reserved. None have electric or sewer hookups. Reservations for campgrounds are not necessary but are recommended and should be made well in advance of your visit, as they fill up fast.

There is a $6.00 fee to enter the canyon and camp sites are an additional $10.00 per day.