I took my first trip to Cheesman Canyon with a few guys from the office - Greg, John, and Jeremy. They fish this water almost every week, so I was lucky to have some great guides for pointing out the spots and the fly selections.
The drive down CO 126 is both beautiful and eerie. Similar in feel to Rte 6 near Golden, this is a beautiful canyon road with dips and bends that follow the river on your right. There is a gorgeous private ranch here as well, with horses grazing on what has to be some gold water trout territory. As you get closer to the reservoir, however, you start to see more clearly the aftermath of The Hayman fire of 2002.
This fire was the largest in Colorado’s history and burned more than 137,000 acres of forest across four counties. The soot and ash from the fire devastated the water and killed off many of the native trout. Lucky for us, the fish slowly returned to this area with the help of conservation and cleanup, and now there are nearly 4,000 fish per mile.
From the small parking lot, you have about a 15-20 minute hike into the lower canyon. The hiking here is pretty minor, so hiking in with your waders and boots on is fine. The path is well defined and leads to a map of some cleverly named spot (see below). The trails along the water can be a bit tricky to navigate, so slow and steady is the best advice. Many of the upper trails along the hillside are nothing more than sand and scree, which can come loose at a moment’s notice. I recommend rubber or studded-rubber soles (rather than felt) to ensure you have the necessary traction.
The Lower Narrows and the surrounding water was a beautiful place to start fishing. The four of us stacked up two to a side, and fished a nice riffle that curved around a large set of boulders. We pulled a lot of fish out of this run (unfortunately, none of them were on my rod). I did have two misses early on some small rainbows as I walked down the river a bit.
The area around the Emerald Pool was nice. Having been my first time here, I tried to cover as much water as possible just to see what the canyon had to offer. Although I hate blaming equipment when I fish, I had brought my 9 foot 6 weight, which is not my preferred small-water setup for Colorado. The extra stiffness of my rod, combined with some poor fly choices, left me blanked for most of the morning and into the afternoon. It wasn’t until I fished a slower run and thought my fly had gotten caught under a boulder that I was rewarded with a fish. I hooked into a beautifully colored brown which gave a mildly good fight before slipping nicely into my net.
We made our way down river and stopped at the Ice Box which is a great stretch of water before you get to the Wigwam Club (if you don’t know what that is, do a quick search - not exactly the fisherman’s fishing experience…). There were definitely fish in this stretch, but my luck had run out for the day. The hike back to the parking lot from here is relatively short, however the beginning section is nearly straight uphill. I need to remind myself to get in shape better if I’m going to fish Cheesman more frequently!
Cheesman Canyon is a beautiful fishery that is both physically and technically demanding. Fly choice (both pattern and size) seem to be key here, as is presentation and technique. Having been only my third real trip out this season, I can’t be mad with my performance. As the saying goes - “if you can catch trout on the South Platte, you can catch trout anywhere in the world”. The next time I fish here, I will definitely be brining my 8 foot 4 weight and a lot of small flies.