Author: Trouts Staff
It happens every year. Just as fishing is starting to pick up in late May, rivers across the state begin to swell with snow melt, turning our favorite fishing spots into a raging whitewater torrents. Most anglers seem to concede to this annual event, choosing to dust off the gardening and lawn equipment instead of reaching for their fishing gear. And with just cause, for most would rather knock off a few yard chores than risk their lives attempting to wade rivers at peak flows.
With our state wide snowpack still hovering around 75%, this spring will most likely provide us with a substantial runoff. Considering the warm weather we are supposed to see across the state this week, I think that it is fair to say that runoff has officially begun. With that said, this year we challenge you all to keep the lawn mower and gardening trow in the garage a little longer, and go hit up one of the many tailwaters and reservoirs around Colorado that fish phenomenally during this typically dormant time. As we’re always willing to help our fellow anglers out, here’s a guide to the Top 10 Fisheries for Spring Runoff 2010:
1. Gunnison River - Black Canyon & Gunnison Gorge
The Gunnison River is arguably one of the more reputable fisheries in Colorado, and there would few that would argue that the Salmon Fly hatch in the Black Canyon is one of the more anticipated hatches of the season. Beginning in mid to late May, the salmon fly nymphs (Pteronarcys californica) begin to make their annual migration towards shore, signaling to the fish and fisherman that the hatch is just around the corner. Although most anglers plan their trip to coincide with when the trout are keying in on the adult salmon flies, the period when the nymphs are on the move can be just as productive of a time to be in the canyon. Typically the crowds are minimal, the fish are hungry coming out of their winter slumber, and the fishing can be off the charts. But if throwing size 4 dry flies is more your style, try and plan your trip to the Gunnison around the middle of June, as this is historically when the hatch is at its peak.
2. Frying Pan River – below Reudi Reservoir
Being a tailwater fishery leaves the Frying Pan in it’s upper reaches (below Reudi Reservoir) protected from the effects of runoff. And with epic BWO, Caddis and PMD hatches coming off from mid May to late June, the Frying Pan can is a great option to cure your fly fishing fix. This can also be the time of year when they increase the flows out of Reudi Reservoir, so don’t be turned off when flows creep up into the 400+ cfs range. The river may look big and fast, but the fishing will be just as good as ever. Be sure and stop by Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt on your way to the river, as the boys there are the go-to sources for info pertaining to this classic Colorado tailwater.
3. Antero Reservoir
Although Antero Reservoir went through a few rough years after 2002, it has rebounded into one of the best stillwater fisheries in the state, if not the Rocky Mountain West. It boast healthy populations of rainbow, brown, brook, splake and cutthroat trout. And since it is smaller then it’s neighbors Spinney and 11-Mile Reservoir, it is a much more friendly and accommodating spot to take your belly or pontoon boat, or to just fish from shore. Spring is a prime time to fish Antero, as the chronomids and damsels are on the move, and the fish take notice. Suspending nymphs under an indicator, or slowly stripping minnow and damsel patterns are the most product methods for fishing this stillwater, although make sure you’ve got your dry flies on hand as there is always the potential for some good surface action as well.
4. Denver Area Lakes, Ponds and Reservoirs
The warm water scene is definitely starting to take hold in the Denver area, with fly anglers beginning to realize that bass, carp, pike and other warm water species are an ample challenge to catch on a fly rod. And with countless reservoirs, lakes and ponds around the metro area, they are a great option to get in some close to town fishing during the runoff period. The best part is that just as the rivers around the state begin to swell with runoff, the bass, pike, and carp begin their annual spawn, creating prime fishing conditions. To most peoples surprise, it’s not just warm water fish that reside in the front range waters. Rainbow and brown trout can be found in many of the areas reservoirs as well as sections of the South Platte River from Chatfield Reservoir all the way down stream to Confluence Park (where Cherry Creek and the South Platte River confluence).
5. Spinney Reservoir
Another South Park holding pond, Spinney Reservoir is a world class trout fishery, annually producing some amazing size fish. Although it is fishable from shore (usually on the South end by the dam), Spinney is best fished from some sort of water craft. Similar to Antero Reservoir, Spinney has an abundance of bug life with chornomids and damsels being the two main spring hatches. Suspended nymph rigs and slowly stripped streamers are a sure fire way to get into fish, yet on the calmer days some dry fly action can be found during the morning and evening. A good rule of thumb for fishing this reservoir is to get their early in the morning before the wind starts to blow.
6. Yampa River – below Stagecoach Reservoir
The Yampa below Stagecoach Reservoir is a lesser know tailwater fishery, although it can be one of the most consistent and productive in the state. With a healthy and naturally reproducing population of rainbow trout, the Yampa is a great option for anybody wanting to do some sight fishing to actively feeding trout. And with average sized fish in the 14″ range, and some getting well over 20″, this section of water will easily become one of your favorites. Bring a good selection of scud and midge patterns, as these fish usually don’t want to see anything too big and crazy, and don’t forget the dry fly box as there always seems to be fish on the surface.
7. Stagecoach Reservoir
The state record northern pike was caught on Stagecoach Reservoir in 2006, weighing 30.11 lbs and coming in at 46.5″ in length. The best part, the guy who caught it was actually fishing for trout! Needless to say, Stagecoach Reservoir is a prime destination for anybody looking to target northern pike, particularly in the spring when the fish are spawning. And since it it a relatively small reservoir, Stagecoach is a great spot to fish form shore or take out your belly or pontoon boat. These fish are stupid though, so you better bring your A game and a good selection of techy pike flies. Be sure to leave the wire at home, as most of these fish won’t even look at a fly tied on any type of wire leader or tippet. A good trick instead is to use 6′-7′ of 20 lb test fluorocarpon tippet, and then use an albright knot to tie on 12″-16″ of 30lb saltwater shock tippet.
8. South Platte River – Cheesman Canyon
Spring is an ideal time to fish Cheesman Canyon, one of the states most infamous tailwater fisheries, as late May and early June are typically when we see flows finally rise out of the 100 cfs range. Although most people think that Cheesman is unfishable over 200 cfs, those in the know will tell you quite the contrary. Because of the ample bug life residing in the canyon, when the flows come up the fish change their diet from small midges and mayflies, to big stonefly nymphs, streamers, worms and scuds. This means that during these spring flush flows, the trout are on an all out feeding frenzy, and the fishing can be absolutely lights out. Your best bet for success is double and triple nymph rigs with a lot of weight, as well as larger dry fly attractor patterns for when the fish are looking up. The most epic day I have ever had in Cheesman Canyon was mid June, and all we threw all day was big grass hopper patterns on 3x tippet, no joke.
9. Colorado River – Radium upstream to Hot Sulpher Springs
The upper Colorado River is one of the few rivers in the state that has a substantial salmon fly hatch, and although it may not be as good as what is seen in the Black Canyon, it is certainly worth a visit. The hatch typically starts in late May in Little Gore Canyon (just upstream of Radium, CO) and slowly works it’s way upstream to Hot Sulpher Springs by mid to late June. The tricky aspect of this hatch is water clarity, as this section of the Colorado can be impacted by runoff conditions. There are a number of tailwater tributaries that flow into the Colorado in this streatch (Williams Fork, Muddy Creek and the Blue River), so their levels can really make or break this hatch. On good years when flows remain low to moderate, the dry fly fishing can be epic using large size 4-6 salmon fly patterns, as well as big stone fly nymphs. Seeing as our snowpack isn’t over 100% like previous years, I have a feeling this could be a great year for the upper Colorado River drainage.
10. Delaney Butte Lakes
The North Park region is an often overlooked region of Colorado, one that holds amazing angling opportunities. Although most people will venture North to fish the North Platte, one of the true gems of the area is the Delaney Butte Lakes. Holding strong populations of brown and rainbow trout, the Delaney Butte Lakes are one of the finest still water fisheries in Colorado. Spring is Damsel time in North Park, and the trout wait for the arrival of these wholesome, protein packed insect to help recover from the long, cold North Park winter. Float tubes and pontoon boats are a real asset when fishing these lakes, as presentations towards the bank lines often produce the best results. In addition to stripping smaller streamers and damsel nymphs, suspending chronomids and other lake patterns under indicators can also be a productive strategy.