Anglers eagerly watching stoneflies and rivers

An angler tests the waters of the Gunnison River near Gunnison Point.

It’s starting to start to happen.

The much-awaited and oft-frustrating stonefly/salmonfly/willowfly (take your pick) hatch is taking off.

Sort of.

“Well, they’re starting to fly down around the Pleasure Park, but it should be a week or so until it goes full-blown,” said Mary Kathryn Hooley on Monday at Cimarron Creek fly shop (249-0408) in Montrose.

She said the adult stoneflies are emerging but still are in the bankside willows and trees. It will be a few days before the pregnant females launch themselves from their streamside perches to lay eggs in the water.

So the “hatch” has started but the “hatch” hasn’t.

Clear as the murky flows of the Cimarron River, which according to Hooley was flowing Monday at close to 1,000 cubic feet per second.

The Cimarron is carrying plenty of murk, and that’s what is coloring the Gunnison River below Crystal Dam.

Triple-digit temperatures will do that to runoff.

The hatch most anglers associate with the stonefly emergence isn’t a hatch at all but an all-out egg-laying event with lumbering female stoneflies bouncing off the water, rafts or the occasionally hat, trying to find a place to deposit future generations.

The actual hatch occurring as you read this is the emergence of the still flightless adults from the thousands of stonefly nymphs leaving their watery birthplace and crawling onto river banks.

Once on dry land, the nymphs metamorphose into adults, and the dried nymphal shuck often is the first hint a stream watcher has of the imminent stonefly craze.

So while the adults aren’t yet crowding the friendly skies with aerial acrobatics, there’s plenty of action for anglers mimicking the large-bodied nymphs, Hooley said.

“People are reporting good success nymphing with anything bright orange,” she said.

The Gunnison River’s stonefly hatch is of national import, at least to the wader-wearing crowd. With most of the West’s rivers nearly unfishable thanks to high temperatures and rapidly dwindling snowpacks, you can be sure conditions on the Gunnison are being watched closely.

“I was in Gunnison this weekend and the river there was over the banks,” Hooley said. “It was 90 degrees in Gunnison and that’s really hot for Gunnison.”

Anglers seeking fishable waters will be looking at the Gunnison Gorge, which was flowing around 700 cfs this week after a recent increase by the Bureau of Reclamation in response to increased runoff.

“We get calls all the time” for current Gunnison conditions, said Olga Spanhoff at RIGS Fly Shop (888-626-4460) in Ridgway. “This time of year anything below a dam is going to get attention but the Gunnison is a special place, especially with the stoneflies coming on.”

RIGS has trip permits in the Gunnison Gorge and will be putting their first boats in the water at Chukar Trail later this week, Spanhoff said.

She said RIGS co-owner Tim Patterson usually finds the hatch peaks around the middle of June but there’s still hope this week’s trip will find stoneflies.

“We also have a trip planned for next week, which should be just about right,” Spanhoff said.

That presumed date of the stonefly hatch is a great guess but it’s rare that all the stars are aligned correctly.

If all goes as planned, which really isn’t to be expected since nothing ever goes as planned, the flows will stay fishable, the weather clear and the stonefly hatch will move slowly upriver, following warming water temperatures.

Starting at the Forks the hatch will move up past the Smith Fork and the Hall of the River Kings, into Jumpin’ Jack Splash Rapid, through Ute Park and Upper and Lower Pucker rapids and then Chukar Trail head, which is where most river trips begin.

Of course, not all anglers find the excitement around the stonefly irresistible. Once word gets out the hatch has started, the river can appear equally crowded with stoneflies and the half-crazed anglers chasing them.

Which means if you like it quiet, the Gunnison River during the stonefly hatch may not be for you.

“I don’t go anywhere near the Gunnison River this time of year,” said Phil Trimm at Western Anglers fly shop (242-8658) in Grand Junction. Trimm spent his youth wandering the banks of the Gunnison. “I like my fishing in solitude.”

Instead, last weekend he fished on Grand Mesa, where there’s still some ice on the lakes but crowds, what crowds?

It’s still winter up high.


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