SALIDA, Colo. — You can’t step into Salida without the Arkansas River reeling you in. Ark Anglers in Salida is your complete guide to the river.

“The river is really the focal point of this landscape. There’s a lot of people who fish in this valley, and I think that really gives them a strong, deep sense of connection to the river and the fishery and kind of what’s going on day-to-day. It helps them tune it,” said Greg Felt, co-owner of Ark Anglers.

Ark Anglers is the only full-service, fly-fishing company in the Upper Arkansas River Basin. They’ve been a staple in Salida since the 1990s.

“Then, we have a guide service–both wade fishing and float fishing–that covers the Arkansas River from Leadville down to below Pueblo Reservoir,” said Felt. “We take about 3,000 people fishing a year. Which is a lot when you consider that our trips are 1 or 2, sometimes 3, people to a guide. So, it’s pretty labor intensive.”

The area has a rich mining history, so the health of the river hasn’t always been good for fishing.

“It had a pretty prolific brown trout fishery here, back then. But, we had problems with heavy metals in the river from our kind-of mining legacy,” said Felt. “In the early 90s, the EPA and other government entities worked together to clean up this heavy metal legacy in the upper Arkansas basin. In particularly, point-source pollution spots up near Leadville, in Lake County,” said Felt.

Within a few years of the water clean-up project, fish populations were flowing strong in the river.

“The other thing that’s happened is our rainbow trout population, which has historically been only stocked fish here, not wild fish, has been improving and growing longer as well–living longer. A lot of our biggest fish are rainbows, even though the vast majority of the fish are browns. We are starting to see natural reproduction in the rainbow fishery now too, finally.”

Felt says it’s a reflection of a healthier river environment and ecosystem.

“We found that our brown trout started to live longer and longer, because they weren’t bio-concentrating these metals. So, where fish tended to live 3 years or so back in the day, now they live to be 7, 8, 10 years old. They get much bigger. They also get smarter,” said Felt.

Ark Anglers specializes in fly-fishing, spin and bait fishing, so anyone can try their hand at reeling in a catch.

“Things like wildfire mitigation, forest health, protecting the environment from overuse and impacts from outdoor recreation, and also trying to support our agricultural community and protect our working lands here in the county. Sort of woven through all of that, is the Arkansas River,” said Felt. “Certainly, in these times of drought and water supply challenges we’re seeing through Colorado and really the Rocky Mountain region, it’s great to have a community that is inspired and cares about that.”