If you can catch a trout in Cheesman, you can catch a trout anywhere. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard this saying since I moved to Colorado but it’s a lot. Every fly fisherman and woman I’ve spoken to has relayed the same message; Cheesman is the most technical water in the Front Range. But I’m a native born Wisconsinite, so I figured who better to fish Cheesman than a Cheesehead?
For those of you who have never heard of Cheesman Canyon, here’s the 411. Cheesman Canyon is a stretch of the South Platte River below Cheesman Lake and Cheeman Dam (so many names to remember right?). The three miles directly down river from the Dam are designated as gold medal water. Gold medal waters are full of big trout and typically are catch and release only waters. This also means that the trout in these areas are very smart, very big, and very, VERY, hard to catch.
There is ample parking at the trailhead but on the weekends it will fill up pretty quick, so try to get there early. Once you’ve parked you will need to hike about half a mile to get to the river. This isn’t a tough hike and you can easily wear your waders and wading boots for the trek, no need to bring your hiking boots.
Once you reach this sign (below) you have two options:
You can head straight down the hill and be fishing in 800 feet or you can head to the right and find river access further upstream. Now the urge to fish usually wins out here, I mean 800 feet to gold medal waters, that’s tough to pass up. However, this is what most people do, and I find that if you turn right and head further upstream you will find a bit more solitude. Cheesman is not a secret and you will have to contend with other anglers anytime you go, but heading upstream will give you a better chance at finding some space.
Once you’re on the water smaller lines are necessary. 6x leaders with 6x or even 7x tippets are required for these clever fish if you hope to fool them. Flies vary by season but during the winter midges are king. Regardless if you choose to Czech Nymph or nymph with a strike indicator, most people use an attractor pattern as their lead fly and a nymph as their dropper. In the winter the fish in this canyon are keying on midges and very few are taken on anything else. If you don’t know what a midge is, here ya go:
These tiny larva grow up to be tiny bugs very similar to mosquitoes. So if you haven’t put two and two together by now we’re talking about very, very, tiny flies to catch very, very big fish. Using tiny flies, on light tackle, to catch very large, smart fish is what makes this section of river so technical. And has given birth to that ever present phrase, “If you can catch a trout in Cheesman, you can catch a trout anywhere.”
Some of our dedicated readers might be thinking, “Wow, Andre is giving us way more details than usual, and we haven’t seen any photos or videos of fish yet, is he stalling?” Yes, yes I am. I apparently cannot catch a trout anywhere, as I have yet to do so in Cheesman Canyon. I have twice ventured into the canyon, and twice I have hooked very large trout, and I have had those large trout spit my hook, twice. This will very likely happen to you, even seasoned anglers and guides have been skunked in Cheesman, so don’t despair. When you do bring a trout to net in Cheesman, the odds are it will be a trophy sized fish and more than worth the wait.
Cheesman is everything the locals say it is. It is tough to catch fish here, the trout have all been around the block and have seen everything, they know our tricks and are not easily fooled. Despite this the canyon is quite beautiful and if you are lucky enough to escape the crowds you might even see some nature.
In conclusion, Cheesman Canyon is definitely worth a visit. Gold medal waters are truly amazing places to fish and the opportunity to enjoy them should not be passed up. But curb your expectations; technical waters like this require proper fly selection, rod set up, and a nearly flawless presentation. So like I said before, don’t despair of you get skunked. But if you manage to land a trout in Cheesman, you can confidently fish anywhere else in the world because, “If you can catch a trout in Cheesman, you can catch a trout anywhere.” Until next time, happy fishing!
– A. Egli