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Trouts Classics // Back To Basics: Know The Flow

Ivan Orsic / Aug 9, 2021

There is a lot to learn when you enter the world of fly fishing. Not to mention, there are a good handful of terms one should become familiar with. The one we will be talking about today is Cubic Feet Per Second, otherwise known as CFS. In sifting through the archives we found an older story that articulated the concept very well while providing valuable and relevant applications. This story is originally by former Trouts Marketing and Outfitting Manager, Kyle Wilkinson. This story dates back to 2015 however, all of the insight still rings true today. Without further ado, let us get into this week's Trouts Classic.


When starting out fly-fishing there is one fact that is impossible to get around or take a short-cut on, and that is the simple reality there is a lot to learn. In fact, talk to an accomplished fly angler and ask them what they love about fly fishing. You're likely to hear as part of their answer that "you're never done learning". I personally couldn't agree more and now- after twenty years of having a fly-rod in hand whenever possible- my desire to continue learning only grows by the day. It's something that I believe every fly-fisher sort of gets addicted to. To the beginner though, I fully realize that while all the intricacies of bug life, tippet diameter, and the benefits of low-stretch core fly lines may be cool and all, but in reality, just going out to the river and catching a damn trout or two seems much, much cooler. The learning process of fly-fishing has been simplified quite a bit over the years thanks to the internet, and information is more readily available than ever for anyone interested in diving into this sport. And aside from all the gadgets, gear, fly names, and dry fly/nymph debates and there is something else that can seem quite daunting to the newbie (or even just newbie to the state).....the CFS of our rivers and how this affects the fishing.

For those unfamiliar with this concept, I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. CFS- or 'cubic feet per second'- is a numeric term used to describe the amount of water currently flowing on a particular river. As you can probably guess, more CFS=more water. The way I like to think of CFS is to picture a basketball. This is approximately 1 foot x 1 foot x 1 foot, or 1 cubic foot. Now draw a line directly across the river. The number of basketballs passing across this line every second is your CFS measurement.

Now that we're familiar with this term, it still probably doesn't mean much without providing some frames of reference for what this looks like.

Below are some examples of our home waters and their 'normal' CFS levels- or perhaps better yet, CFS levels where you can expect to be comfortable (and hopefully successful) wade fishing. With any luck, this will provide some perspective so that when you hear "Dude! Cheesman is at 500 let's get in there!" or "Oh man, I really don't want to go to the Dream Stream when it's only at 55" you'll know that this means A) Cheesman is quite high. B) Dream Stream is on the low side. The figures listed below are what we here around the shop like to see these rivers flowing at. If you see flows on a particular river are below this, expect to find lower water and possibly tougher/more technical fishing. If you see CFS figures much higher, expect to find bigger than normal flows- which isn't always a bad thing- but may make wading much more difficult/dangerous in spots. Oh and yes, once you become familiar with these terms-like in the examples above- you'll likely find yourself dropping the 'cfs' when describing a river as well.

South Platte (Dream Stream/Elevenmile/Cheesman/Deckers)- 100cfs-300cfs

Blue River (Silverthorne)- 50cfs-200cfs

Clear Creek- 50cfs-150cfs

Bear Creek- 50cfs-150cfs

Arkansas (Canon City to Salida)- 300cfs-600cfs

Arkansas (Pueblo Tailwater)- 100cfs-300cfs

Frying Pan- 250-350cfs

Roaring Fork (Basalt to Carbondale)- 500-900cfs

Colorardo (Parshall)- 500-1000cfs

Colorado (Pumphouse)- 1000-2500cfs

Colorado (Glenwood Springs)- 2000-4000cfs


A few final thoughts on CFS.

1) When researching flows, there is more to it than just the instantaneous figure you get at the exact point in time you check. Pay attention to what the river has been doing to gauge how the river might be fishing. The keyword here is 'might'. (there are not guarantees or always in fishing obviously) What I mean by this though is how has the stability of the flows been? Is the river rising, falling, or stable? And for how many days?

2) In my opinion stable water conditions are always going to provide the most consistent and reliable fishing. If a river has been in flux (significantly rising/falling), I typically find that by day 2 or 3 after the river stabilizes (or hopefully returns to 'normal') the fishing will be best.

3) Given the choice, I'd always rather fish on rising water than on falling water. As a general rule- and one that you should keep in mind if you don't- Fish Follow The Water! On rising water, expect the fish to hit the banks picking off worms and other insects that are being washed into the river system. On falling water, expect a lot of fish to play the retreat game and head towards the middle of the river or first major drop-off's/shelves towards the middle. I will qualify my rising water preference by saying either A) low water conditions rising to more normal conditions or B) normal water conditions initially beginning to rise to slightly above normal. A perfect example of this was Cheesman Canyon during the beginning of the summer. When flows were on the rise the first couple of weeks (or even months), the fishing was INSANE! Every fish in the river was up shallow and eating worms being washed into the river. You'd literally be reeling in a fish and it would be puking worms. And then the water didn't quit rising...and then still didn't even after that. The 'Canyon instantly went from really good to really tough. I guess sometimes too much of a good thing really can be a bad thing.

When it comes to fly-fishing in Colorado we have A LOT of water to choose from and in my opinion, it's a pretty special thing that I can wake up here in Denver, grab some coffee, and find myself on any of these rivers a short time later. However, it doesn't matter how perfect your presentation may be, wade fishing any of these rivers, when flows are either extremely low or extremely high, can make for a potentially miserable experience. Thankfully we're here to help make sure this doesn't happen. Aside from keeping an eye on this Blog, be sure to keep your mouse-trigger finger ready on the River Report tab just a few spots to the left of the Blog tab. Stream flows for virtually every major river and stream in the state will be waiting for you!

As always, good luck out there, and please let us know how we can continue to make your time on the water more enjoyable and productive!


ARKANSAS BASIN

Arkansas River at Cañon City

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 366 cfs
  • Wind 12 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 38/64

Arkansas River at Granite

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 24/45

Arkansas River at Salida

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 208 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 33/54

Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 299 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 38/71

Arkansas River near Leadville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 29 °F
  • High/Low 17/38

Arkansas River near Wellsville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 264 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 33/54
COLORADO BASIN

Blue River at Silverthorne

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 100 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 26 °F
  • High/Low 21/42

Blue River below Green Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 223 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 25/44

Blue River near Dillon

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 23 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 20/41

Colorado River at Catamount Bridge

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 671 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 33/47

Colorado River at Windy Gap (Chimney Rock)

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 117 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 27/44

Colorado River below Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1660 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 37/53

Colorado River near Dotsero

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1030 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 35/48

Colorado River near Granby

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 27/44

Colorado River near Kremmling

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 566 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 25/44

Crystal River near Redstone

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 62 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 32/44

Eagle River at Red Cliff

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 11 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 23/41

Eagle River below Edwards

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 94 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 29/46

Eagle River below Gypsum

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 212 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 35/49

Fraser River at Tabernash

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 29/44

Frying Pan River below Reudi Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 152 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 29/44

Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 22 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 29 °F
  • High/Low 25/43

Gore Creek at Dowd Junction

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 31 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 27/45

Homestake Creek at Gold Park

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 10 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 22/39

Muddy Creek below Wolford Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 29 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 26/44

Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 562 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 37/53

Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 29/45

Roaring Fork River near Aspen

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 17 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 32 °F
  • High/Low 27/43

Roaring Fork River near Emma

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 380 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 34/48

Tenmile Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 29 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 20/41

Williams Fork River below Williams Fork Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 40 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 26/44
GUNNISON BASIN

Cimarron River near Cimarron

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 29 °F
  • High/Low 28/45

East River near Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 81 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 28/47

East River near Crested Butte

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 86 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 26/43

Gunnison River at Black Canyon

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 517 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 37/54

Gunnison River near Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 955 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 45/63

Gunnison River near Gunnison

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 308 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 31/51

San Miguel River near Nulca (at Brooks Bridge)

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 16 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 44/60

San Miguel River near Placerville

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 73 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 33/49

Taylor River at Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 140 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 28/47

Taylor River at Taylor Park

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 19/38

Taylor River below Taylor Park Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 103 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 26 °F
  • High/Low 19/39

Uncompahgre River at Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 333 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 45/63

Uncompahgre River below Ridgeway Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 44 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 35/55
RIO GRANDE BASIN

Rio Grande River at Wagon Wheel Gap

RIO GRANDE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 101 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 24/43
SAN JUAN BASIN

Animas River above Tacoma

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 25/45

Animas River at Durango

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 174 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 32 °F
  • High/Low 32/55

Animas River at Silverton

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 21/37

Animas River near Cedar Hill, NM

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 208 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 36/61

Animas River near Howardsville

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 15 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 20/35

Dolores River at Bedrock

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 85 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 45/62

Dolores River at Dolores

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 66 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 35/53

Dolores River below Rico

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 18 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 24/42

Piedra River near Arboles

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 119 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 35/58

San Juan River at Pagosa Springs

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 109 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 29/53

San Juan River below Navajo Reservoir

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 352 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 42/63
SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

Bear Creek at Morrison

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 33 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 37/63

Big Thompson at Canyon Mouth (near Drake)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 40 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 31/47

Boulder Creek at Nederland

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 7 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 29 °F
  • High/Low 29/48

Cache La Poudre River at Canyon Mouth

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 54 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 35/57

Cache La Poudre River at Fort Collins

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 54 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 38/60

Clear Creek at Golden

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 59 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 37/64

Clear Creek near Downieville

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 26 cfs
  • Wind 16 mph
  • Air Temp 29 °F
  • High/Low 27/47

Middle Fork South Platte River

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 23 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 20/41

North Fork of South Platte River at Bailey

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

  • Flow 66 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 24/46

North Fork of the South Platte at Grant

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 17 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 24/46

Roberts Tunnel East Portal at Grant

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 0 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 26 °F
  • High/Low 23/45

South Boulder Creek below Gross Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 18 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 32/55

South Platte above Spinney Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 19 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 25 °F
  • High/Low 20/41

South Platte River at Deckers

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 135 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 34/60

South Platte River at Denver

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 276 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 38 °F
  • High/Low 39/67

South Platte River below 11 Mile Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 131 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 28/48

South Platte River below Chatfield Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 70 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Air Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 38/66

South Platte River below Cheesman Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 101 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 34/58

South Platte River below Spinney Reservoir (Dream Stream)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 128 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 28/48

South Platte River below Strontia Springs Reservoir (Waterton Canyon)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 32 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 35/63

St. Vrain Creek at Lyons

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 59 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 35/62

Tarryall Creek below Tarryall Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 7 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 28 °F
  • High/Low 26/47
YAMPA BASIN

Elk River near Milner

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 170 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 32 °F
  • High/Low 33/46

North Platte River near North Gate Canyon

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 27 °F
  • High/Low 27/39

White River below Meeker

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 412 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 35/51

Yampa River above Lake Catamount

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 66 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 31 °F
  • High/Low 32/44

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 165 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 32 °F
  • High/Low 32/45

Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 41 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 30 °F
  • High/Low 30/43

Yampa River near Maybell

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 800 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 35/50

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