So many places to fish, so hard to make up your mind
AUSTIN — The North Fork of the Gunnison River is running high and brown, the Colorado River is up and going higher, and in those places where the water is low the snow isn’t.
What’s a fisherman to do?
Why, go fishing, of course, but that first move should be toward the Internet and the daily stream flow reports.
It’s runoff season across western Colorado, and all those high flows and the off-color were exacerbated by this week’s round of rain and snowstorms.
The increased ground water means your options of places to go and catch fish seriously have been reduced.
However, flow conditions change every day, and the streamflow reports generally reflect those changes.
“Generally,” meaning gauges occasionally break down or for some reason aren’t operating, but most of the stream readings are current.
The Colorado Division of Water Resources has a statewide streamflow website at http://www.dwr.state.co.us. The site offers information according to the state’s seven major drainages, and while not all the streams have gauges on them, there are enough to give you an idea of where the water is and where it’s going.
But once you open the website, it becomes the same old story: When there are lots of places to choose from, you can’t make up your mind, and when you have but three or four places to go, you still can’t decide.
Call it seasonal indecision disorder, this spring fever-like inability to make up your mind, but in truth you really can’t go wrong by sticking with a few favorites.
Dam-controlled rivers — the Gunnison River from Crystal Dam to the Pleasure Park, the Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam, the Taylor River below Taylor Park Dam and the Fryingpan River below Ruedi Dam to Basalt — immediately come to mind as refuges in the high-water sweepstakes.
Phil Trim, the knowledgeable shop manager at Western Anglers Fly Shop in Grand Junction, said he and frequent angling partner Ned Mayer had a productive day last week on the Gunnison River between the Pleasure Park and the Smith Fork.
Mayer’s 20-inch brown trout pictured on this page is testimony to the day’s success.
“I’ve been out quite a few times and the fishing has been great,” said Trimm, who can be reached at 244-8658. “It’s been a good winter, much warmer this winter than the last couple of years.”
Monday, the gauge showed the North Fork running about 1,570 cubic feet per second (cfs) but by Tuesday morning storms sweeping across western Colorado had jumped flows to 2,950 cfs.
With the North Fork that high, access to the Gunnison must come from the west side via Peach Valley Road (Delta County Road H.75).
The fast, discolored flows of the North Fork — at this speed, it’s better for kayaking than fishing — contribute to making the Gunnison nearly unfishable below the Pleasure Park.
Trimm, who prefers to throw streamers this time of year, said die-hard dry-fly anglers heading upstream of the Pleasure Park already will find a few blue-winged olive mayflies appearing in the middle of the afternoon on warm days.
“Well, you can see them when the wind isn’t blowing,” Trimm cautioned, “but we’ve gotten a lot of wind this spring. It’s a great time to throw streamers.”
Other useful fly patterns to carry in the spring include San Juan worms, egg patterns (rainbow and cutthroat trout spawn in the spring) and the always good-to-have-at-hand midge patterns of your choice.
With Monday’s opening of the East Portal Road and its access to the Gunnison below Crystal Dam, more fishable water is available.
At last report, the Gunnison below the East Portal was running about 1,300 cfs, which is very fishable but too high to cross.
The river has several tributaries below the East Portal and you can bet that below the Smith Fork confluence (there’s no flow gauge on the Smith Fork) will be running a bit higher than the 1,300 cfs measured at the East Portal.
The Gunnison flows certainly will change as the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation adjusts dam releases to address runoff and demands from Uncompahgre Valley Water Users.
Also, weather and loose rocks along East Portal Road can make access down the steep (16-percent grade) and narrow passage an unsure matter, Trimm noted.
“It can be iffy at times,” he warned. “You might show up and the gates are closed because of snow or rockfall.”
A recent report from the RIGSs Fly Shop and Guide Service in Ridgway said fishing in the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk stretch of the Uncompahgre River is improving.
According to the guides at RIGS (970-626-4460), this reach of river, immediately below Ridgway Dam in Ridgway State Park, has improved recently as flows from the dam were increased to 293 cfs.
Lastly, the Fryingpan at its present flows of around 300 cfs or so is about perfect, according to the guides at Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt. Carry a selection of nymph, midge and blue-winged olive patterns.