Acting on a casting call, Phil Porter of Minturn enjoys fishing the Arkansas River near Salida.
Acting on a casting call, Phil Porter of Minturn enjoys fishing the Arkansas River near Salida. (Scott Willoughby, The Denver Post)

This region took a big hit this summer when a massive wildfire scorched thousands of acres along the upper Rio Grande River and left the small towns that depend on it — such as South Fork and Creede — reeling.

There's still plenty of good fishing and spectacular scenery surrounding South Fork. The San Juan River is about an hour to the west and the Conejos is just a bit farther to the south. A similar distance north takes you to the Lake Fork of the Gunnison. And in a normal year, the Rio Grande between Creede and Del Norte would easily scratch any other itch a fisherman might have.

But it wasn't a normal summer.

As a result, many regular South Fork visitors found their way east to Salida, smack dab in the middle of the upper Arkansas River's trout country. Once there, it's easy to understand why the river continually ranks as the most popular in the state among anglers.

Fishermen won't go wrong in either locale.


South

Base camp: South Fork or Salida.

Fishing: San Juan, Conejos, Lake Fork of the Gunnison, Arkansas rivers.

Guide's choice: "Unless our river clears up, you are going to have to go high into the mountains and fish the streams," said Tyson Warren of Wolf Creek Anglers in South Fork. "The Conejos is close; the San Juan is closer. ... It's hard to recommend the Rio Grande right now, but it's starting to improve." Said Greg Felt of ArkAnglers in Salida: "On the Ark, Bighorn Sheep Canyon continues to fish really well, along with the high lakes."

Call of the wild: The end of rafting season in Browns Canyon, north of Salida, leaves the BLM Wilderness Study Area vacant for fishermen.

Call of the mild: Big Meadows Reservoir, 18 miles south of South Fork, has easy access, hiking trails, family-friendly camping and bait fishing. There are several stocked lakes with easy access near Salida.

Guides/shops: Wolf Creek Anglers Fly Shop, South Fork (719- 873-1414, wolfcreekanglers.com); Conejos River Anglers, Antonito (719-376-5660, conejosriveranglers.com); ArkAngers, Salida (719-539-4223, arkanglers.com).

Grub: The Shaft, Hungry Logger in South Fork. Laughing Ladies Cafe or Currents in Salida.

Sleep: Rainbow Lodge (rainbowsouthfork.biz); Allington Inn & Suites in South Fork (800-285-6590, allingtoninn.com). Camping near Beaver Creek Reservoir. Aspen Glade near the Conejos (Colorado 17 off U.S. 285 south of Antonito). In Salida, Comfort Inn (800-228-5150), Gateway Inn and Suites (719-539-2895). Camping at Hecla Junction (north) and Rincon (east).