Secrets of the South Platte

Denver's nearest national forest is stacked with recreational opportunities.

May 2010


The South Platte needs no introduction to trout fishermen—these waters draw anglers from all over the country. North of Highway 24, the action centers on the tiny junction town of Deckers, where the river is famous for monster browns and rainbows—and infamous for its challenging fly-fishing.

The Deckers area's most celebrated fishery is Cheesman Canyon, accessed by the Gill Trail (about three miles west of Deckers on CR 126; there's a sign for "Cheesman Canyon"). A 15-minute walk brings you to the canyon rim, and then the trail follows the river upstream for another three miles. This is a tailwater fishery: Cold water rushes out of the bottom of Cheesman Dam, rich in nutrients for the insects that lunker trout love to eat. It's also a purists' area: All the trout are wild, only artificial flies and lures are allowed, and you have to release anything you catch.

Downstream of Deckers, fly-fishing is popular in the gold-medal area that extends as far north as Scraggy View Picnic Area. (A name that doesn't do the view justice—it's gorgeous.) But farther downstream, from Scraggy View to Strontia Springs Reservoir, bait fishing is allowed and the state stocks the river with young fish. This scenario makes purists sneer, which leaves good fishing for the less picky. "The farther upstream you go, the bigger the trout are, but the smarter they are," says Danny Brennan, a fishing guide and owner of the Flies n Lies shop in Deckers. "The farther downstream, the smaller but dumber they are."

Which suggests a sound strategy: Head first to Cheesman Canyon and enjoy the superb setting and the chance—just the chance—of hooking a trophy-size fish. But don't use up the whole day. Says Brennan: "I always tell people, 'Go up there and get humbled, and then, on your way home, go downstream and catch some fish.' "

Guide South Platte River Fishing Map & Guide (Shook Book Publishing)

Dougald MacDonald is a Louisville-based freelance writer and a contributing editor for 5280. His last story for the magazine was "Let the Games Begin," a look at three adrenaline-pumping winter sports. E-mail him at [email protected].

If You Go

The South Platte Ranger District offers a wealth of helpful information: 303-275-5610; For a unique après experience, stop at the log-cabin, good-timin' Buck Snort Saloon ( in Sphinx Park, about 1.5 miles north of Pine (County Road 126), along South Elk Creek Road.