September 30, 2010

The Stink: Hope For Denver's South Platte

power plant
The horror stories began long before I arrived. Rumors of fishing mutated sumo-sized carp among abandoned shopping carts and skateboards downstream of the water treatment plant were standard fare. Advisories issued from the Environmental Health Department warning of elevated levels of heavy metals, ammonia, and fecal coliform only confirmed the fact that the city uses this stream as its dumpster. It wasn't until I sat down for a beer with some of Denver's seediest fly fishing characters that the truth really came out. Brazen missions of fishing antiquated cemetery settling ponds were told in such a cavalier manner that I don't doubt for a minute that these guys fish for Nemo inside porcelain thrones. These guys were live.

trash run
urban ashtray
yuppie garbage
When I finally strapped my boots on and hit the DSP, my initial suspicions were confirmed; garbage everywhere. From cigarette butts to snakeskins and cotton ponies, litter lined the banks. The ultimate find was the epitome of yuppie trash, a solitary Keen sandal strewn amongst the driftwood and cocktail bottles, the pièce de résistance. You really had to watch your step around the concrete rubble or else a rebar snake would strike at you, making you wonder when you had your last tetanus shot, or for that matter, if you remembered to get the last few hepatitis boosters. Urban warfare at its finest.

ditch fishing
ricecakes in stinktown
After peeking under the surface film however, glimmers of hope began to rise from the bottom. Freshwater mussels were everywhere, and so were crawfish, thousands of them. Countless schools of smallmouth bass and white suckers filled the shallows. I bore witness to a trico hatch and caddis were everywhere. Recent reports of PMDs hatching are bringing much needed hope for this stream. Coupled with a surprise catch of the occasional trout on the South Platte, perhaps this river isn't in as bad of health as once thought.

hero shot
Carp are an obvious catch in an urban stream. Those things can survive in utter filth. In fact, the only things that will survive the apocalypse are twinkies, roaches, rats, and carp. What holds the most promise, though, is the burgeoning smallmouth fishery that is beginning to take hold on the South Platte. The urban jungle is the perfect environs for the smallmouth. Concrete slabs and boulders provide essential cover for those bellicose bronzebacks, while providing enough water hazards to keep guys like me in business selling you flies. I know I had a hell of a time keeping the red-eyes away from my carp flies on The Stink; those little bastards. In fact, one of them saved me from a skunk, providing me with some much needed relief after losing several hooked carp. While smallmouth bass are not native to Colorado, neither are carp, but they both provide a fantastic fishery on the DSP.

Maybe there is hope for the DSP after all...