A Backyard River for the Front Range Angler: The South Platte

Fishing the South Platte River near Denver is like heading out to your local par 3 golf course
Fishing the South Platte River near Denver is like heading out to your local par 3 golf course Graham Silver
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For Front Range anglers looking to practice their casting, test new gear or just in need of a quick fly fishing fix, Denver’s urban stretch of the South Platte River is always a fantastic option to keep in mind. Think of it as playing a quick round on your local par-3 golf course. The river flows north from Chatfield Reservoir through Denver’s suburbs and weaves its way right through downtown, making it easily accessible and within a short drive of the majority of Denver’s metro area.

Unlike the Platte’s legendary sections such as Deckers, Cheeseman Canyon, and the Dream Stream—known for producing incredible trout—Denver’s urban stretch of the Platte is considerably less majestic. After it spills out of the Chatfield Dam, the Platte makes a straight shot for downtown Denver, passing under streets and footbridges every couple hundred yards. 

Though somewhat less majestic than some of the South Platte's better sections, the urban stretch near Denver offers some surprisingly great fishing.
Though somewhat less majestic than some of the South Platte's better sections, the urban stretch near Denver offers some surprisingly great fishing. Graham Silver

Although the banks have been mostly altered to support flooding with engineered placement of boulders, concrete, and vegetation, the river still maintains a natural ecosystem with resident fish, birds, and rodents that you'd expect to find in much wilder settings. Accessing the river is a breeze, with plenty of parking areas, neighborhood streets, and parks providing abundant set-off points. 

Traditional fly fishing in Colorado is strictly focused on pursuing trout species. And while trout can be caught through the flatland sections of the Platte, you’re much more likely to hook into something a bit more surprising. Carp fishing has brought a new light to river, with 10 pound, highly skittish bottom feeders occupying many of the promising pools. Fishing for carp is a bizarre but rewarding endeavor that typically requires sighting individual fish and tactically approaching them. They splash around in calm water with their noses in the mud, sifting for everything from crayfish to waterlogged cotton bits.  Bass flies are a better bet than trout flies while hunting carp and once you’ve hooked one, hold on tight. 

A great place to real in some of Colorado's biggest fish species
A great place to real in some of Colorado's biggest fish species Graham Silver

This suburban section of the Platte is a flat, slow moving, and regulated fishery. It is still a tail-water with year-round flows controlled by the Chatfield Dam. The sandy bottom, shallow flow, and lower elevation makes it a suitable habitat for warmer water species such as bass, pan-fish, and walleye, and it’s not uncommon to attract a hungry bass while casting into a carp pool. It’s also worth tying on a few trout rigs to enjoy the long, slow drifts. 

Given the variety of species and abnormal stream conditions, the Front Range section of the South Platte is a total wild card for the fly fisherman but it can be just as productive and enjoyable as a gold metal stream a few hours away. 

For carp fisherman, it doesn’t get better than casting from behind overpass pylons, crouching behind concrete slabs, and fighting one of the biggest fish species in Colorado. If you can ignore the musty smell and occasional industrial waste, the South Platte has much to offer a Front Range angler looking to enjoy a couple hours on the water.

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