Where to Fly Fish on the South Platte River CO

Where to Fly Fish on the South Platte River, CO (Maps, Flies and More)

Fly Fishing the South Platte River in Colorado was the first fly fishing experience I have ever had where I knew that I had a chance to catch a true trophy. Previously, all of my fly fishing experience was on small streams throughout the Midwest. A trip to the South Platte River gave me a chance to truly put my skills to the test.

It didn’t take long for my dream to come true. A 24-inch brown trout on the “Dream Stream ” stretch of the South Platte gave me a massive fight and it’s still one of the best memories I have with a fly rod.

Brown Trout from the South Platte River
Brown Trout from the South Platte River

The South Platte is a 439-mile river that flows throughout Southern Colorado, Wyoming as well as Nebraska. The Colorado portion of this river is around 300 miles and the majority of it is wonderful water for fishing.

The “Dream Stream”

The portion of the South Platte River that stretches from the Spinney Reservoir to the Elevenmile Reservoir. It’s a 4-mile section that is considered to be Gold Medal trout water. The beauty of this section of the South Platte is that it’s entirely public and extremely easy to access.

Anglers aren’t going to be dealing with trees that grab their flies or challenging trails that make hiking challenging. If you need easy water to access that holds quite a few fish, then the Dream Stream is for you.

You’ll find brown and rainbow trout that range over 20 inches long. Perhaps the most unique aspect of this portion of water is that you’ll find a run of Kokanee Salmon in the fall. They run this section of water and are eager to eat any sort of red egg or streamer pattern you can throw.

Dream Stream section of South Platte River
Dream Stream section of South Platte River

The water is smooth and the fish like to hold to the banks and the bottom.

The Dream Stream section doesn’t require any special equipment. A 9’ 5-weight rod will definitely do the trick. However, you will find that these fish are finicky. They see flies, so they know a poor presentation when they see one. You’re going to want to use size 20-24 midge nymphs on this portion.

Guide Pro Tip: Colorado is a fly fishers paradise. So many incredible rivers and streams. Are you planning a trip to CO? You’ve got to check out my article -> Best Places to Fly Fish in Colorado

It’s a challenging way to fish, but it’s going to be the most productive. San Juan Worms are a great fly to pair your midge nymph with. Also, make sure you’re using size 4x to 6x tippet to make sure the trout don’t see your flies and spook. This water will test your skills, but it can be extremely rewarding!

Elevenmile Canyon

Another part of the South Platte that anglers need to fish is Elevenmile Canyon. Elevenmile Canyon is right outside of Lake George, Colorado. Where the Dream Stream makes it challenging to fish with dry flies, Elevenmile Canyon makes up for all of those challenges. Year round, you’re going to have success fishing with dries. This section of the river is easily accessible and the two miles have about 4000 fish per mile.

Elevenmile Canyon for South Platte Fly Fishing
Elevenmile Canyon for South Platte Fly Fishing – image Google Maps – link

Caddis, BWOs, PMDs and Trico hatches are all quite common! You’ll find that these are going to be most successful in the early and late times of the day. Again, a 9’ 5-weight with 4 to 6x tippet will work well for you.

Some of the water is boulder filled and some is fairly smooth. Stick to fishing along the banks and near structure and you’ll be good to go! Just make sure you’re watching for rises.

Tomahawk State Wildlife Area

The Tomahawk State Wildlife Area upstream from the Dream Stream is far less popular and equally as productive as the Dream Stream. It sits between the towns of Garo and Harstel. The brown and rainbow trout easily grow above 20 inches and you’ll hear many anglers who say that their largest South Platte fish come out of these waters. You’re still going to have to be inconspicuous and stick with smaller flies and light tippet, but you’ll find that the fish are a bit more forgiving.

Tomahawk State Wildlife Area
Tomahawk State Wildlife Area – image Google Maps – link

Fish along the banks and fish nymphs bouncing along the bottom. The fish may be a bit spooked, so you have to meet them where they’re at.

Access is easy off of State Highway 9. Make sure you follow any of the no trespassing signs, and you’ll be good to go.

Why the South Platte River is Perfect for Fly Fishing?

The South Platte is perfect for fly fishing because of the large reservoirs and tailwaters that flow throughout it. Tailwaters are ideal for trout because the water is extremely cold, food is easily available and trout are able to naturally spawn throughout the waters. On top of that, the access on the South Platte is easier than most rivers in Colorado. While it has its fair share of private access, some of the most productive waters are accessible to the public.

Guide Pro Tip: Another AWESOME river in Colorado is the Animas. I’ve got a complete guide to fly fishing it right. Read -> Where to Fly Fish on the Animas River CO

Another great aspect of the South Platte is that the fishing itself doesn’t require intense wading and traversing. The casting lanes are fairly open and you’re able to fish from shore as well as wade depending on your preference. If you want to get away from anglers, you’re going to have to hike away from the access points, but these aren’t overly challenging.

You have camping options as well as a healthy stocked and naturally reproducing fish population!

What Kind of Fish Can you Catch on the South Platte River

The predominant fish in the South Platte River are rainbow trout and brown trout. However, you do have a chance to land a Kokanee Salmon in the fall and maybe stumble upon a Cutthroat Trout if you’re lucky.

Favorite Flies for the South Platte River

The beauty of the South Platte is that you’re able to fish dries, nymphs and streamer patterns. Different times of year and portions of the river require different fly fishing techniques. The name of the game within the South Platte is small! Don’t fish massive flies and you’ll have success.

Parachute Adams- Size 20

Parachute Adams size 20
Parachute Adams size 20

The Parachute Adams is the perfect dry fly for the South Platte River. It’s a small fly that can represent any of the smaller midge hatches that occur on these waters.

San Juan Worm – Size 16

San Juan Worm size 16
San Juan Worm size 16

The San Juan Worm is a great fly to pair with any nymph rig you’re fishing. Let it drag along with your nymphs and you’ll likely get a taker.

Ventures Fly Co 40 fly assortment - a perfect gift for dad
Here’s an Amazon shortcut link 👉 Ventures Fly Co Assortment

Ventures Fly Co. 40 Fly Assortment Has a Great Selection of Flies

This assortment has most of the flies needed lay the foundation for an effective fly box. the most common dries, nymphs and streamers. Check out the on water video review on YouTube – HERE

Hatch Chart for the South Platte River

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
 Midge Patterns 18 January 1 December 31
Golden Stonefly 8May 15July 31
BWO16March 15May 15
Trico20July 15October 15
 PMD 16June 15August 30
Caddis14May 10Sept. 30
Terrestrial8July 15September 15
Egg Patterns10September 1October 31

Fly Rod and Reel Setup for the South Platte River

The South Platte River doesn’t require an ultra finesse rig or a powerful rig. A standard 9’ 5-weight rod is ideal. You can match that with a large arbor 5 to 6-weight reel and some floating line. The river isn’t overly deep and a longer leader will get you where you need on this water!

Orvis Clearwater 5 wt 9 foot Combo
Orvis Clearwater 5 wt-9 foot Combo

The Perfect Fly Rod Combo for the South Platte River Colorado

Orvis originated in the fly fishing business. The Orvis Clearwater Combo is perfectly balanced and comes with everything except flies. It’s so easy to cobble together an outfit that just doesn’t cast right. No worries with that using the Clearwater Fly Rod Combo.

Guides and Fly Shops Near the South Platte River

The South Platte Fly Shop should be one of your first stops when fly fishing the South Platte River. It has a full guide service and all of the equipment you would need for a day on the water. It’s located in Woodland Park.

Flies and Lies is another full-service fly shop that offers all different types of fishing on the South Platte River. It’s a great, family run shop that will work for you. It’s located in Sedalia, CO.

Last Cast

The South Platte River is a historical river that continues to produce trophy fish year after year. Yes, it gets pressured, but the productivity of it is hard to argue against. Landing a trophy is going to require all of your skills, but the work put in makes these fish even more worth it.

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels


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