Broad beaches at Blue Mesa not always bad for everyone

Stretch of Gunnison River revealed as Blue Mesa waits for water

Not everyone hitches their wagon to a full Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Although it might look good in publicity photos to have broad expanses of rocky beach covered by the reservoir’s azure waters, it seems there is more to do and more places to go when there’s a bit of open expanse around the reservoir.

“I don’t think (a full Blue Mesa) affects the number of tourists we see,” said Tammy Scott, executive director of the Gunnison Chamber of Commerce. “It’s so big, and when there is less water the fishing is actually better, because the fish are concentrated.

“Last year, the fishing was fabulous.”

In addition, the broad beaches allow anglers and recreationists to explore the entire reservoir, something not possible without a boat during high water years.

“When the reservoir is down you can go anywhere you want below the high-water mark,” said Scott.

Fishing guides and outfitters expressed concerns during Thursday’s Aspinall Operations meeting about the forecast of high water releases from Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Current estimates of inflow into Blue Mesa warrant a one-day, habitat-improving flush of 6,427 cfs through the Black Canyon and a 40-day flow of at least 8,070 cfs (including 10 days at 14,350 cfs) to benefit endangered fish in the critical reach around Whitewater.

That, plus the estimated eight days on either end required to raise and lower the water levels, is enough to seriously affect the fishing and the fishing business in the Black Canyon, said fishing guide Marshall Pendergrass of Montrose.

“That much water turns a three-day float into a four-hour float,” he said. “The river turns into a lake. Fishing above 3,000 (cfs) really is about worthless and above 7,000 it’s dangerous.”

That means guides and outfitters lose money when customers cancel reservations because of high water.

He also noted that reaching the high flows takes about eight or nine days on either side to ramp up water levels.

“The biggest problem is when it’s ramping up, the fish can move with it, but when it drops, they get stranded,” he said.

High water can strand anglers, as well.

Because the releases depend on runoff amounts, and those depend on weather, the water levels in rivers can change fairly quickly.

“You might want to warn anglers about how fast water levels can change,” said hydrologist Erik Knight, who is with the Bureau of Reclamation.

Several web sites offer day-to-day streamflow data, including the Colorado Division of Water Resources at http://www.dwr.state.co.us.


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