OUT Sunday Column July 05, 2009

Late flows make 'funky and weird’ fishing conditions

You should have been here tomorrow.

That’s the futuristic look at fishing around western Colorado on a weekend celebrating a small group of forward-thinking patriots.

Anglers headed out for their Fourth of July fishing trips will find more water this year, the second consecutive year that flows are above long-term average.

Maybe, just maybe, we’re seeing the last full weekend of high flows as some rivers are starting to drop, but low water on the 11th of July doesn’t help us this weekend.

For now, flows across western Colorado remain high and forecasts for more rain in the high country present uncertain challenges for anglers looking to hook up with a trout or two.

Bob Burk, owner of Cimarron Creek Fly Shop in Montrose and one of the more-knowledgeable Gunnison River guides, says high water and low temperatures on that river in June delayed the stonefly hatch in the upper reaches through the Gunnison Gorge and into the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park.

He described the general conditions as “funky and weird.”

“The hatch never really happened in the park,” said Burk. “We didn’t see the egg-laying females until late last week or so in the inner gorge and at Chukar (Trail) it hardly happened.”

Anglers instead found a “blizzard” of caddis and smaller stonefly species, including yellow sallies and golden stoneflies.

“If it weren’t for the caddis and Yellow Sallies the fish weren’t looking up” to feed,” Burk said. The hatch “certainly wasn’t what it could have been.”

Check out Burk’s Web site (cimarroncreek.com) for a detailed map of the latest stonefly action.

The Gunnison River should be down to around 2,700 cubic feet per second this weekend, according to the Bureau of Reclamation. Flows jumped to nearly 4,000 cfs last week as the bureau suddenly found itself with an extremely full Blue Mesa Reservoir and more water on the way.

“We came within three-quarters of an inch of spilling” Blue Mesa, said Dan Crabtree, lead hydrologist for the bureau’s Grand Junction office. “Last Friday (June 28) we initiated bypass flows at Blue Mesa in order to keep outflow greater than inflow.”

With flows this high, you might want to leave your waders at home.

“We don’t recommend getting in the water,” said Burk, citing reports of banks under water and anglers unable to discern where the next deep hole was lurking.

“Getting into the water is a bad idea. You take the next step and you might be up to the top of your waders or over and not be able to get out because the water is moving quite fast.”

He advised looking for “soft water,” the slack flows found in eddies and cutoffs near the bank.

“Fish can’t hang out without a food supply and that’s going to be in the soft water,”
Burk said. “Find the soft water and you’ll find good concentrations of fish.”

Other area rivers, including the San Miguel and the Cimarron, are starting to drop to near-normal flows, he said.

Anglers heading up-valley toward the Roaring Fork and Fryingpan rivers also will find flows a bit higher than comfortable, said Cam Scott of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt.

“During the day the flows are going to fine for nymphing but right now the dry-fly fishing is a challenge,” he said. “The Roaring Fork definitely is just going to get better over the next two weeks.”

When that happens, “it turns to pretty much mayhem in the evenings,” said Scott enthusiastically. “The drakes are going to come off from about 8-8:30 (p.m.) and then you can fish with a headlamp until about 11.”

The Roaring Fork at noon Thursday was running at 4,050 cfs near Glenwood Springs and about half that near Basalt.

Scott said the green Drake mayflies are “creeping upriver” from Glenwood but by midweek hadn’t yet reached as far as Basalt.

“It’s about a 75/25 mix of (pale morning duns) and blue-winged olives,” he said.

“Those are afternoon hatches from about 12:30 to 4:30.”

He, too, recommended anglers deal with high flows by searching out the softer flows.

“You find the soft water at these flows and you’ll also find a lot of fish stacked up,” Scott said.

The Animas River is swollen by recent rains, reported Dennis Lum of Duranglers Flies and Supplies in Durango.

“We had a late runoff plus lots of rain in the last few days,” said Lum. “We’re thinking that if we don’t get anymore rain by the weekend, the Animas will fish well with streamers.”

He repeated earlier recommendations about exercising caution in the wading department.

“It’s going to be running high and it’s safer, instead of wading, to work just the edges,” he said.

The holiday weekend promises enough excitement without adding an unexpected swim to the mix.


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