South Platte River, Eleven Mile Canyon, Colorado
by Randy D. Caillier
(Sugar Hill, GA)
My son and I just returned from a tenkara fishing/camping trip to the South Platte River below Eleven Mile reservoir. We camped in the Spillway camp ground in Eleven Mile Canyon about 500 yards below the dam.
The campground is in a beautiful location right on the river, no running water or showers just out houses but still a great place to camp. (Bring plenty of fresh water)
We reserved our camp site on-line ahead of time. We planned on Wednesday through Friday afternoon so we could avoid the weekend crowds.
This was a pretty solid idea, but we were kidding ourselves! When we pulled up to our camp site the prior campers were still there so we put on our waders and headed for the river about 9:30AM.
When we broke through the river edge willows we were stopped cold! There was a fisherman about every fifty yards up river and down river from our vantage point. So much for beating the crowds to some great fishing!
Walking up river a little ways we were able to find an ethical gap to fish in but there was not going to be much wading either up or down river unless someone moved off the river.
Fishing here for about a half hour I hooked a beautiful 14" Bow on a # 18 Gray Dunn on 6X tippet on traditional line and my 11ft rod.
To my surprise he hit while I was fishing the riffles over a small gravel bed in about 12" of water. I was surprised only because as a beginner I normally think the fish are in the pools or deep water, note to Randy fish the whole river.
Day time temps were about 80 degrees during the day and low 40 degrees overnight no rain for our three days here, but the wind blew relentlessly every day usually would calm down or go away after dark, about 9PM this time of the year.
This made sitting around the campfire each night, warmed by the flame, with the smell of the smoke, staring at the dancing flames a perfect ending to a great day of fishing.
You could tell this tail water received very high fishing pressure not just by the amount of people you saw in the water. But so many people fished this "Gold Medal stretch" that the fish have learned to school up right behind your legs hoping to feed on anything you kicked up as you moved through the water.
I was about thirty minutes into fishing this spot when I looked down and saw about a half dozen really nice fish just inches away from my feet.
Kind of a "Good News Bad News thing" the good news is you know there are plenty of really nice fish in the river, the bad news is these fish are smarter than the fishermen hunting them.
So after the first 30 to 40 minutes of fishing right from the camp ground my son and I decided to drive down river to find some "Open" water to fish in where we could move up river without bumping into someone.
We drove for about two and a half miles where we found some open water mostly because here the river is white water in a very steep canyon.
In other words you had to work your butt off just to get down to the river and when you couldn't wade forward (water too deep) you would have to climb back out a ways then back down to the water to fish.
The first two miles down river from the dam are "Gold Medal" waters only catch and release etc. as it turns out there were three other camp grounds along this same stretch of river so everywhere you looked there were people fishing.
We returned to our now empty camp site and spent the balance of day one setting up camp and relaxing reading fishing books and planning tomorrow's day.
Day two we had driven about 4 miles down river from the dam, this stretch is not designated "Gold Medal" you can keep specific size fish (read the Colorado fishing orders.)
We did real well today my son caught four medium size bows and a real nice 14" bow I caught two 8" bows we worked hard fishing up river climbing in and out of the steep canyon walls when necessary.
But all in all a very good day of fishing some great "tenkara" type mountain water among the huge boulders and deep pools.
Day three we had decided to drive most of the way down the canyon (towards the entry of Eleven Mile Canyon Park) then we would fish up river.
Today we only had three to four hours to fish so we packed up our camp before fishing. We fished hard for about three hours with no action so we walked back to the truck packed up and started back to Denver to my son's house.
What I learned on this trip:
1. As I mention above fish the "Whole" river not just what you think are the sweet spots/pools etc.
2. Drink as much water as you can when at 9,000 ft altitude.
3. I need to loose 50lbs and be in much better shape to work up and down these canyon walls just to get to the fish.
4. Don't charge right in when you get to the waters edge, slow down and read the river get a plan and really work the water prior to moving forward.
5. Sitting next to your son each night around the camp fire is about as good as it gets!
6. The wind blowing the truck door shut and cutting your rod tip off on your first day of fishing really does happen (My son had some back-up rods thank god).
7. A "Stealthy" approach to any water is the best way to improve your fishing - no rock on rock noise, conceal yourself every chance you get.
The South Platte River and Eleven Mile Canyon are beautiful, with great Tenkara fishing opportunities.
I would definitely recommend you give it a try remember you are fishing at about 9,000 ft elevation so drink lots of water and pack the Advil for the usual afternoon headache (if you're from sea level like me.)
You'll work hard for your fish but what a great place to work (If you call fishing work.)
Get out there and just do it!
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The hooks are sharp.
The coffee's hot.
The fish are slippery when wet.