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Spring 2011 Runoff Update | July 7, 2011

July 5, 2011
Author: Tucker Ladd

Well I will be completely honest that when I stated this post series back in early May, I never thought that I would be reporting on runoff conditions into July.  The flows that exist in our Northern and Central Mountain rivers and streams are a testament to the extraordinary snow pack that we had this winter, and the gradual melt that we are experiencing is a perfect storm of conditions (lots of high country snow, cool spring weather, and mild summer daytime temperatures).  While this prolonged runoff has been a burden for us anglers, I want to reassure everybody of a couple of facts/realities that should make everyone feel a little more positive about our current situation.  First and foremost, runoff will eventually end.  Although it may feel like we are in for a never ending season of murky and high water, our mountain snowpack is dwindling every day and we are getting closer to a time when we will finally start to see river levels dropping.  The second is that these high flushing flows are only making our rivers and our fish healthier, and the long term positive effects of this runoff season will be visible for years to come.  High flows flush rivers of unwanted sediment, and the lack of pressure that the fish are feeling right now will undoubtedly make them more active once things get back to normal.

So the million dollar question still remains... when will rivers be fishable.  Well I would first point out that there are many rivers across Colorado that are very fishable right now.  Rick Mikesell (Trout's Assistant Manager), and myself spend three days last week floating the Rio Grande River outside of Creede, CO.  We experienced optimal fishing conditions with dropping flows, epic hatches, and three days of dry fly fishing that I will never forget.  Other tailwater fisheries are in great condition right now, including South Platte at Deckers, Cheesman Canyon, Happy Meadows, 11-Mile Canyon and the Dream Stream.  In addition, the Big Thompson, Bear Creek, Cache La Poudre, Blue, Williams Fork and Frying Pan Rivers are all fishing very well right now, and are well worth the drive to get there.  So that then leaves our famed free-stone fisheries, most of which are experiencing the full effects of this epic runoff season.  When looking at these rivers and trying to guestimate when their flows will start to subside, you must look up into the high country to the remaining snowpack.  On a drive down from Vail earlier this week, I snapped this photo (to the left) from the summit of Vail Pass.  Although there is some visible snow, it is dramatically less than a week ago, and with the warm mountain temperatures we're going to see this week, this snow will only continue to disappear.  Now I am not a betting man (I've always felt that any money I would possibly gamble away would be better suited for some fly fishing items, or a nice bottle of burbon), but I would be willing to wager that we should see dropping, fishable flows by the 15th of July.  Now please understand, this still means that river flows will be high, and water clarity may be a bit murky, but the rivers throughout Colorado should all be getting back into "fishable" shape.

So keep you eyeys on the hydrograph, always feel free to give the shop a call or shoot us an email, and be sure to dust off your gear because fishing is about to get GOOD!!!

Posted in Essays |   1 Comments


#1. Posted by M Prazak on July 7, 2011

I climbed Democrat last weekend and also had the opportunity to go 4 wheeling between Vail Pass and Red Cliff.  Two things struck me:

1) Although the snow pack is shrinking above the tree line, the snow fields that remain are still very large and deep.  Climbing Democrat was difficult due to all the snow.

2) For all the snow above treeline, there is much more snow sitting in the upper levels of the trees below tree line.  Enough snow that the road between Vail pass and Red Cliff is still closed. The shade from trees is protecting that snow and it is melting SLOWLY.

Rafters in the Vail valley are very excited - they are predicting high runoff levels through early August.  I am excited to get back to fishing, but probably not until August.  This is a runoff year that we’ll remember for decades to come.

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