On the fly: Tips for finding fishing success in scenic Cheesman Canyon

By: Jon Kleis Special to The Gazette
March 20, 2017 Updated: March 20, 2017 at 4:15 am

It's no secret that the South Platte River through Deckers is fishing well and has become very crowded as a result. It's also no secret that the trout through Deckers are less fickle than their counterparts upstream in Cheesman Canyon - a fact that would make for a great study on fish behavior because Cheesman often gets less traffic.

It would seem that lighter fishing pressure would lead to easier-to-catch fish, but the opposite holds true. That's why the real motivation to make the half-hour hike along Gil Trail into the canyon (besides the natural beauty) is to seek more solitude while improving your technical skills by casting to stubborn fish.

I've had the privilege of fishing with a few people I consider to be solid Cheesman anglers, and I'd like to share some tips I've picked up that could improve your success in the canyon.

My first tip might seem a bit superfluous because some of you already carry every fly in your possession, but when heading into the canyon take your streamer box, terrestrial box, your dries, nymphs, etc. While small, olive-colored baetis and a variety of midges are on the menu year-round, there are a ton of worms, scud shrimp, golden stonefly nymphs and cranefly larvae that call this river home.

Cheesman has a buffet of large bugs and things to eat. One of my favorite memories there was watching a giant cranefly buzz over my head and land on the water only to get smashed by a 16- to 18-inch rainbow.

But fish rising to anything in the canyon is far from the norm, which means you likely will spend a good portion of time sight fishing with a nymph rig.

Trout below Cheesman Dam seem to hate strike indicators and seeing the weight, so my next tip is to downsize the indicator to the smallest version that you can see and to move the weight farther from the flies along the leader. The ideal setup is using a 7 1/2-foot leader lengthened to 9 feet with fluorocarbon (preferably 5x or 6x), losing the indicator and having the weight sitting 2 feet above the first fly.

A good 1-2 punch nymph rig should include something such as a Pat's Rubber Leg for the first fly with a size 18 olive Stalcup's Baetis for a dropper. Attach the dropper by tying a length of tippet between 16 and 18 inches to the bend of the hook of the front fly. Note: If you place the weight higher on the leader, it's going to slow the sink rate of the flies so that's something to be aware of when you're sight fishing. Often, slower sink rate means you will have to cast farther upstream from your target to give the flies more time to fall into the strike zone.

The last tip is not to shy away from approaching fish from an upstream angle and drifting the flies down to them. Cheesman trout often spook the moment they see anything unnatural, so you increase your chances of success by making sure the first thing that drifts into their line of sight is your bugs.

Practice hiding behind rocks, of which there are plenty, or keeping a low profile to avoid spooking the fish if you're going for the upstream angle. Tight lines!


Kleis is a professional fly-fishing guide for Angler's Covey Fly Shop. Read his columns on the third Monday of each month in Life. To schedule your fly-fishing adventure, email jonkleisflyfishing@yahoo.com.

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