High elevation snow totals 258 percent of average, leaving fishing season in flux

A shift this weekend to more seasonal temperatures makes winners of baseball fans and boaters but adds more suspense to a fishing season already full of questions.

Warm weather greeted Saturday’s opening of the Alpine Bank Junior College World Series but it’s only a start in reducing the deep snow still in the high country.

The Yampa River, already hitting 17,900 cubic feet per second at Deerlodge Park, is not expected to peak for at least a week or more, said Heather Hermansen in the Bureau of Reclamation’s Salt Lake City office.

“High elevation snow increased last week and snowpack/water equivalents remain significantly above normal,” said Hermansen in an email Wednesday.

More snow was forecast this weekend for the northern mountains, adding to a snowpack gauged at 258 percent of average.

The same holds true for the Fryingpan River Basin, where the high-country snowpack above Ruedi Reservoir was measured last week at 386 percent of long-term average.

Kara Lamb of the Bureau’s eastern Colorado office said water levels in Ruedi are being dropped since it’s expected the reservoir will fill this summer.

She said releases into the lower Fryingpan River are around 340 cfs with the Rocky Fork adding another 20 or so cfs.

“We’re hoping to maintain that release into the runoff season,” Lamb said.

Fishing in the Fryingpan can be very good in the 350-cfs range, said Kirk Webb at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt (970- 927-4374).

The dam keeps flows in the Fryingpan clear and fishable all the way to its confluence with the Roaring Fork.

Webb said anglers have been using small (size 20-22) Blue-winged olive mayflies, which are in abundance on cool, overcast days.

“For Blue-winged olives, it’s been about as ideal as you could ask for,” Webb said.

The slow approach to runoff has kept the Roaring Fork at manageable levels instead of blowing out as might be expected for Memorial Day.

Friday the river was at 857 cfs and still fishable.

“But how much longer, that’s the question,” said Webb. “We haven’t yet seen much of big push from runoff, so it’s a day-to-day sort of thing right now.”

The Gunnison River below Crystal Dam will see significantly higher flows starting this week, said the Grand Junction office of the Bureau of Reclamation.

Releases this weekend are in the 3,500 cfs range, allowing 1,000 cfs for the Gunnison Tunnel and around 2,570 cfs down the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge.

The outflows will increase to a one-day peak of 7,800 cfs on June 8, said Dan Crabtree, lead hydrologist for the Bureau’s Grand Junction office.

“This should result in a flow of around 6,800 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge,” Crabtree said.

Crabtree said releases would drop starting June 9 with flows stabilizing around 3,000 cfs in the Black Canyon and Gunnison Gorge.

Rafters looking for a quick run or two on high water this weekend may find the Yampa to their liking.

The Yampa at Deerlodge Park is forecast to reach as high as 25,000 cfs, news that gladdens the hearts of flood-stage enthusiasts such as Pete Atkinson at Whitewater West (241-0441) in Grand Junction.

“At that level, the campgrounds probably are under water but it’s rafting great,” Atkinson said Friday. “I’m sure Warm Springs (rapid) doesn’t wash out, it just gets really big.”

Warms Springs is the biggest rapid on that stretch of the Yampa and rated as a class IV (on the international scale of I-VI) anywhere above 10,000 cfs.

The Colorado River at the Utah border was hitting 21,600 cfs Friday, which means rafters headed to Westwater Canyon on Memorial Day will likely find the river higher if the weather stays warm through the weekend.

Atkinson said some of the rapids along Westwater Canyon start to flatten out and get a bit easier at 20,000, unlike other rapids that get only harder the higher the flows.

“They call it the ‘mean teens,’ ” Atkinson said. “Between 14,000 and 18,000 cfs some of the rapids are really big but over 20,000 some of them start to moderate.”

That doesn’t include well-known Skull Rapids, the biggest along Westwater and rated a class IV at higher water levels.

“At lower levels it’s hard and when it gets really, really high it gets spooky,” Atkinson said.

His personal choice for the weekend is the Dolores River below Bradfield Bridge.

“There is supposed to be an eight-to 10-day window when they release water out of McPhee (Reservoir),” Atkinson said. “I pretty excited because it’s not every year there’s enough water in the Dolores River.”


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