I am a proud native of Colorado, and I can say with confidence that I have never experienced a winter in Colorado that comes close to what we’ve seen this year. Within the last 2 weeks, we’ve seen snow totals coming in that are reminiscent of what we’d expect to see in the Sierra Nevada’s, and I’m hard-pressed to recall the last time our mountains received over 6 feet of snow in some areas. The subsequent avalanches that have plagued the Rockies have been a humbling reminder of the sheer power Mother Nature possesses, and I’m thankful that the injuries and casualties have been kept at a minimum. Experts are noting that this winter is what they are calling a “50 Year Event”, so it’s good to know that winter dangers of this magnitude aren’t going to become our new normal.
As frightening as the last 10 days have been in the high country, there is a silver lining that we all need to consider. All of this snow will eventually flow into our state's rivers, and after the drought of 2018, this is a much needed and welcome surprise. As you can see from the Snowpack Map below, as of today our statewide snowpack sits at 132% of historic average.
While this certainly isn’t the biggest snowpack we’ve experienced in Colorado, it is a far departure from where we were at this time last year. But with all that said, our winter is far from over, and there is still time to see our snowpack increase OR decrease. So let’s all remember to keep praying to the snow gods, as I’d always rather have too much snow than too little.
Now let’s get to the question on everyone’s mind, that being “how will this snow affect runoff and the upcoming fishing season?” The short answer is that my magic 8 ball is in the shop for repairs, so I’m not able to provide a quick and accurate prediction at this time. But in all seriousness, the answer to this is it’s ultimately still too early to tell. So let’s look at what we do know. First, we have a stellar snowpack with more winter weather in the forecast for this week. March, April, and May are traditionally our snowiest months of the year, so it’s fair to think that we’ve got a few more good storm cycles coming our way.
Beyond that, we’re really in the hands of mother nature and how she wants to see this spring runoff cycle playout. Speculating from past years, it is fair to assume that we will see peak runoff from mid-May thru the end of June. This timing can certainly deviate to earlier or later dates, but this has always been a safe time-frame to work with. The real variable to consider and watch for is A) how warm is it going to be in the high country, and B) do we get rain in addition to warm weather? Valley snow is always the first thing to go once we’ve seen runoff peak, and this provides the first noticeable “bump” on flows on our freestone rivers. But this snow represents a small fraction of our total snowpack, and it’s not until we see temps in the ’60s at high elevations that we’ll start to see any big jump in flows. So, if we have a cooler than average spring, we can expect to see runoff drag it’s ugly feet into summer. If we have a warmer than average spring, then we’ll see a more significant, but shorter runoff event.
But all of this is mere speculation, and we’ve got plenty of time to get a better idea as to what we can all expect from the coming runoff season. In the interim, we’re now smack dab in the midst of the Fifth Season, and fishing across the state has been fantastic. While our higher elevation rivershed's are under a bit of snow, tailwaters and lower elevations options have been fishing great. Keep in mind that March and April are times when we can expect to see warmer temperatures throughout the high country, and these are always ideal days to be on the water. So while the skiing remains epic right now, don’t forget that it’s also one of the better times of year to be on the water.
I’ll be sure to keep everyone up-to-date with another Snowpack Update later this month, but if you have any questions in the interim always feel free to reach out.
Tucker Ladd, Owner