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River Rising: the Denver South Platte

Posted by David Nickum on September 20, 2017 in Chapters, Events, Fishing, Fund Raising, Habitat, Press/PR, South Platte, Trout, Uncategorized, Water Quality

Ronnie Crawford first discovered the urban fishery of the South Platte by accident around 15 years ago. He was taking a couple of kids fishing with bait on the river near his house off Evans. Much to his surprise, they started catching trout. That was the simple beginning of a long-term love for fishing the “Denver South Platte,” and for introducing others to all it has to offer.

For more than a decade, the Denver Trout Unlimited chapter (DTU), of which Ronnie is a board member, has been working to improve the health of the Denver South Platte – the section of the river starting below Chatfield Reservoir and then flowing through the southern suburbs and downtown Denver. Eleven years ago, the chapter held its first “Carp Slam” fishing tournament, to build awareness of the Denver South Platte and its fishery potential, and to raise funds for river restoration efforts. This year’s Carp Slam takes place September 23, with Denver’s most awesome after-party taking place atop the DaVita building in LoDo on Saturday evening (purchase your tickets here).

A Denver South Platte rainbow.

As the name suggests, the Carp Slam’s fishing focus is carp—but the goal is to improve habitat in the South Platte for a variety of fish.  And many anglers in the Carp Slam routinely catch impressive trout, suggesting the potential for a much more robust urban trout fishery.

Restoration work started with the South Suburban Parks and Recreation District in 2012, working to enhance the reach of the South Platte by Carson Nature Center to better support native fish, recreational fishing, and riparian habitat.  DTU contributed to the District’s effort with $10,000 raised through the Carp Slam and another $80,000 leveraged through a Colorado Parks and Wildlife Fishing is Fun grant.

The restoration effort and partnerships have grown exponentially since then.  DTU has worked with the City and County of Denver and the Greenway Foundation on a South Platte Restoration plan that lays out a restoration vision for the river and corridor all along the Denver South Platte. Millions of dollars are flowing toward efforts to improve several miles of river and to create economic benefits from a healthy South Platte as a new recreational centerpiece of the Denver metro area.

While appreciating the broader efforts to improve the entire greenway corridor, DTU has helped keep a strong focus on the river habitat itself. “We’re the ones focused on what’s happening below the waterline,” explains DTU member John Davenport.

One of DTU’s stream temperature loggers

Part of focusing below the waterline has been to pay attention to water quality, including stream temperature. To better document water temperatures and understand the river’s fishery potential, DTU purchased and placed in-stream loggers starting in February 2016, collecting hourly water temperature data at six sites along the Denver South Platte.  Results to date, Davenport says, look very similar to those for the Arkansas River in Pueblo – a river supporting a popular trout fishery.

While finding a future for trout fishing in downtown Denver is definitely part of DTU’s vision, a healthy river and fishery is the key goal – not just trout.  “I call this a potluck stream,” explained Crawford. “You never know what you’re going to get.  I’ve hooked carp, brown trout, rainbow trout, smallmouth – all on the same fly and some on the same day.”


For Crawford and DTU, it is all about making the most of a resource that has been hiding in plain sight.  “It’s right under everybody’s nose, but they don’t think about it,” he said.  “They don’t know the grand array of fish that can be caught here.”

4 Responses to This Post Already

  1. As a soon-to-be-resident of Littleton, and current member of the Guadalupe River Chapter-Trout Unlimited, and after having lived in San Antonio, Texas for 68-years, (other than for my two years in the United States Navy as a Vietnam combat volunteer veteran) my concern would be carp. I have been a B.A.S.S. member since 1971, and agree wholeheartedly with B.A.S.S. publications Senior Writer, Robert Montgomery, carp are a bane, not a boon. If the “Carp Slam” allows for the removal of this fish fine, but a catch n’ release would be anathema for someone like myself. Can you provide more information about this event?

    • Bill, Many local anglers value the carp fishery as a part of the South Platte’s potpourri of fishing opportunities. That said, given concerns (especially with Asian Carp) that have played out in many areas, I reached out to Paul Winkle, the local CPW biologist, for some info on the influence of carp on other fish in the South Platte, and the question of whether catch & release should be practiced in light of impacts. Here is his response:

      “To be clear, the only carp species in the South Platte River is the common carp. There are no Asian carp. With that said, common carp are fairly widespread throughout the urban South Platte. I conducted a fish population survey on the South Platte in 2016 from Evans Ave. down to just past Florida Avenue. In this part of the South Platte, there were about 175 common carp per mile of river. With that density of carp, I don’t think that anglers could remove enough fish to make a difference in the long term, over many years, seeing as how prolific this species is.

      Yes, common carp can negatively impact other species of fish. However, in my surveys of the South Platte, I typically observe/collect carp in sections of river that have degraded physical habitat. For example, areas that have been backed up by downstream drop structures resulting in sedimentation upstream of the drop structures and slow water velocities. Carp will inhabit these areas, most other fish species (sport and non-game) won’t, because of the physical habitat. In other sections of river where the river channel is more natural, with riffles and runs, carp aren’t as abundant, whereas the other species are. So, bottom line, I think physical habitat has more of an effect on desirable fish species than common carp.”

  2. Great news! It’s been really neat to see the restoration projects along the S. Platte throughout the Denver area over the years. I saw a photo of a great rainbow my buddy Jarred caught just the other day by Evans, or maybe downstream closer to Overland Park. It must get too hot still for the trout in July/Aug though right? Or are some of those pools deep enough for them to chill out?

    • Based on survival through this summer observed among fish stocked in parts of the Denver South Platte in spring 2017, it appears that there are indeed places where they are able to hunker down and survive through the hot months. Denver TU is also conducting temperature monitoring on the river, and has generally found its temperatures to be fairly similar to those seen on the Arkansas River near Pueblo which has a well-recognized trout fishery. Of course, the further downstream one goes, the more the habitat transitions away from trout and to warmwater fish. CPW has not seen evidence of successful trout reproduction in the Denver South Platte – so its trout population relies on stocking or migration in from upstream sources (Chatfield Reservoir, Bear Creek)

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