Courtesy of Fuzzy Gerds
Courtesy of Fuzzy Gerds

The Denver South Platte River Revitalized

Why it's so important to save Denver's River.

January 29, 2018

Anglers flock to the rocky mountains for the famous trout streams — where after a few hours drive, you have world class trout fishing. Fly fishing the rockies conjures anachronistic images of a simpler time – where people of all walks of life traded in their work slacks for their waders every weekend. It was a simpler time, glorified by brands such as Patagonia and Howler Bros which arose from fly fishing culture. When one thinks of fly fishing, its of a simpler time  when the cities weren’t quite as big and the air wasn’t quite as dirty. 

Now of course these feelings aren’t universal, still, Denver is home to a large population of fly fishers. The Denver Post reports there are over 750,000 fishers in Colorado as of 2013, with that number on the rise. Further, in a fly-fishing industry report published by Southwick and Associates in 2013, the Rocky Mountain region is responsible for nearly a third of the total U.S. market share of fly-fishing gear sales. So clearly there is a large portion of fly fishers in and around Denver.

It seems as though fly fishing is inaccessible. Denver is an established metropolitan area, and although the mountains are close, it can be a long drive for accessible fishing spots. Sure there is cheesman canyon and the blue river, but these are still a long drive and almost always crowded. You can fish for carp in Wash Park and Sloane’s Lake, but many prefer trout.

Courtesy of Fuzzy Gerds

Now efforts are being made to revitalize a fishery in the middle of Denver- the Denver South Platte (DSP). Once a thriving fishery, the DSP has been plagued by low flows and river erosion for the past 40 years. This was catalyzed by the biggest flood in Denver’s history. In 1965, there was a massive flood. Inflation adjusted, there was four billion dollars worth of damage done in a matter of hours. The city of Denver, reeling from the damage, took the necessary precautions in order to ensure the safety and protection of the city of Denver. The acropolis would stand mighty once again. The South Platte was dug into a trench, being shallow and wide. This allowed for better bank control, and less of a chance of flooding. Where at one time an increase in water flow would increase the depth, and the water column would get higher – overflow easier, now an increase in water flow would lead to a wider river. The results of an increased water flow wouldn’t be nearly as disastrous. The rearrangement of the river bottom led to unintended and grave consequences for the ecosystem. The river used to be a V shape. This was conducive to both a rocky bottom, and faster flows. This in part led to the flooding, thus the new river was flattened in widened- with a focus on reconstructing the portion below Chatfield Reservoir. The flattened bed made it harder for fish to find adequate depth, and made it harder for stoneflies to breed and hatch. The wildlife suffered. The trout suffered. No longer was the river able to support stoneflies, among other insects. The bugs left (due to inhabitability) and the trout soon after. So yes, there would be no more floods, but also no more trout.

Currently, as previously stated, the DSP is abysmal for trout to live in. As trouts fly fishing, an advocate for river restoration and a local fly shop states, “historically, there are about 60 zero flow days in the winter where no water flows out of Chatfield. These low-flow periods have put undue stress on trout in the Denver South Platte.” Numerous organizations and companies around Denver are looking to help revitalize the DSP. One local company, the aforementioned Trouts Fly Fishing, is helping to revive the DSP. Trout’s goal is to raise $7,500 for the restoration project. Now what would this $7,500 do for the DSP? Trout’s furthers “The goal of this restoration and revitalization project is to restore the river to a condition in which trout can reproduce.” The $7500 would be used to by ten acre feet of water. This water would be set aside and released through the Colorado Parks and Wildlife fish hatchery at Chatfield Reservoir into the South Platte River. So the $7500 would be used to ensure good flows through this low flow section of river, allowing for the proliferation of insects and the betterment of trout spawning grounds. Currently, this undue stress and these low flows make it incredibly hard for trout to spawn (reproduce) effectively. Trouts is one of many local business making efforts to save the DSP. People and business are helping the DSP; But at the forefront, Trout’s Unlimited Denver is spearheading the project.

Trout unlimited has already secured 10 acre feet of water from the reservoir last year. This will help tremendously to fix the previously discussed problems with the DSP. Further, they are putting in concrete cylinders, to provide better locations for trout along to banks. You can read more about the restoration effort at the Denver Trout Unlimited website –

Whether you are a seasoned angler, or brand new to the sport; with a positive impact on the environment and on all the feeshes, the DSP reinvigoration project is incredibly important.


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