River Rising: the Denver South Platte

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).

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.

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.”