Salida, Colorado, is known as the heart of the Rockies. It is also known for its world class white-water rafting and fly-fishing on the Arkansas River. Several hot springs grace the area, as well as up to fifteen mountains over 14,000 feet to climb, world-class four-wheeling, zip-lining, rock climbing, etc. These features draw lots of tourists to the area in the warmer months, while hunting and a decent ski area (Monarch Mountain) draws people in the colder months.
Less known are several small lakes nearby that provides outstanding fishing for several species. Without local knowledge, or use of the Colorado Fishing Atlas, it would be nearly impossible to find these fishing jewels.
West of Salida toward Monarch Mountain is a beautiful small reservoir, called Fooses Lake. Flowing into the lake is Fooses Creek and both worthwhile places to fish. The Colorado Fishing Atlas indicates there are rainbow trout and cutbow trout in the lake, but it does not indicate any fishing in the creek at all. Using flies (dries and weighted nymphs), spinners, and nightcrawlers, we caught cutbows and brown trout out of both the small lake and the creek above the lake.
The inlet area of the lake seemed to be where the fish were most active, but the lake also offers an area that is easily accessible to disabled fishermen. This area is not farther than 15 or so miles west of Salida.
Closer to Salida are several State Wildlife Areas (SWAs). Several of these State Wildlife Areas give people access to the Arkansas River for those who want to fish this famous flyfishing river. The Arkansas River is artificial flies and lures only, but is known for large brown trout for much of its length, including the section of river around Salida.
A little exploration will also reveal some State Wildlife Areas that include small lakes that provide good fishing for several species of trout and even bass. The first of these is Mount Ouray SWA. It contains two small lakes, Riverside Ponds, North and South.
The Colorado Fishing Atlas indicates there are tiger trout in both of these small bodies of water, but a conversation with a game warden suggested that tigers are no longer in these ponds. Using flies, lures and nightcrawlers, we had nice success in both small lakes, catching rainbow trout and smallmouth bass. There are also some large carp in the lakes that may be catchable, but we did not try for them.
Also near Salida is Frantz Lake SWA, featuring the namesake lake, Frantz Lake. A game warden told us this is the best lake for catching largemouth bass in the area. We did not catch any, but we did catch a number of rainbow trout, mostly around the inlet stream. We only used nightcrawlers there, but using flies and lures are likely to be just as successful.
That leaves my favorite lake of the bunch, Sands Lake, located in Sands Lake SWA. We almost just walked away when we first looked at this lake. It was full of moss and had many ducks and geese. It looked like a good place to feed the ducks, but didn’t look like much of a fishing hole. We watched the water for a few minutes and noticed some large swirls and splashes of feeding fish. We notice a fishing pier at the inlet streams and went there for a better look. We saw some very large trout swimming in the area of the inlet streams, so we gave the lake a try afterall.
Of course, the large trout were not biting, but we started catching some good sized rainbows and cutbows, up to about 15 inches. We even finally got one of the large rainbows to bite and caught an 18-inch golden-colored rainbow.
Leaving Salida after experiencing this great fishing, we are determined to go back because in 3 days, we did not have enough time to try all the bodies of water located near this historic town. But all the places we did try turned out to be productive.