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Cheesman Canyon at high flows… what you don’t know

June 10, 2009
Author: Trouts Staff

Over the past few years, Colorado Trout Unlimited has been working with water groups from across the state in an attempt to bring more historically accurate spring runoff cycles to rivers controlled by dam.  These coordinated efforts have been a great success story for environmentalists and fisherman alike; and have been proven to be invaluable to all our state watersheds.  Streams like the Blue River are proof that these natural river flushes drastically improve the rivers ecology in terms of insect life and fish health.  Ten years ago this stream had the reputation as being a starile river with meager fish populations. Today, the Blue River is regarded as being one of the states best Blue Ribbon Trout Streams, and a top choice for anglers across the state.  As a result of such success stories, other rivers are now benefiting from high annual runoff flows, including the famed Cheesman Canyon of the South Platte River.

Over the past decade, many anglers who frequent the canyon have been conditioned to expect river levels in the realm of 50 – 250 cfs year round (with the exception of small, periodic spikes).  While fishing does remain productive at these flows, it has had the adverse effect of making the fish more educated and thus more selective in their feeding habits.  When flows would jump over 500 cfs, most anglers would dismiss the canyon as “blowout” and unfishable.  What these anglers don’t realize is that Cheesman actually fishes at its best when flows exceed the dreaded 500 cfs mark.  When I tell people this, many look at me in disbelief and think that I am playing some sort of sick joke on them.

But the truth is that the Middle Fork of the South Platte River is an amazingly healthy stream in terms of it’s resident insect life.  Cheesman Canyon plays host to a wide variety of insects including: mayflies, caddis, midges, stoneflies, craneflies, and terrestrials.  In the past when spring and summer flows never approached their historical averages, many of these larger insects were off the menu of the trout in Cheesman Canyon due to their low numbers and the general wariness of the fish.  But the flushing flows of the past few years have drastically improved the overall health of the Cheesman Canyon rivershed, particularly in terms of its insect populations.  In addition, when flows do spike, this abundant insect life gets swept off the river bottom and into the feeding lanes of hungry and aggressive trout.

So what is the lesson to be learned by all of this?  Next time you see flows in Cheesman spike to 500+ cfs, grab your big nymphs, streams and dry flies and head to the canyon for some truly memorable fishing!



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