The story on runoff: Call first
ALMONT — In most years, mid-June means runoff: high, discolored water that grinds boulders into rocks, sweeps rivers and streams from bank to bank and keeps fish-hungry anglers dabbling along the edges of their favorite water.
The winter snowpack was uneven, and it wasn’t until late in the year many high-country areas started seeing close to normal snowfall.
The question most asked is: Where is runoff this year?
Earlier this month some water forecasters were predicting the Roaring Fork River already had peaked, hitting a flow of 3,394 cubic feet per second (cfs) on May 27.
That notice was accompanied by some caveat, considering the Elk Mountains still had snow mantling their shoulders, said Brenda Alcorn, senior hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center in Salt Lake City, to the Aspen Times.
“Our model is showing right now that if it gets warm enough, we can get as high as we were then and possibly a little bit higher,” Times staff writer Nelson Harvey quoted Alcorn saying.
Sure enough, a week later, summer’s heat turned full on, and on June 11 the Roaring Fork’s flows climbed to 5,000 cfs, a level more suitable for floating a raft rather than a Green Drake.
The river report from Taylor Creek Fly Shop (http://www.taylorcreek.com) in Basalt is calling the upper and middle reaches of the river, from Carbondale upstream to Aspen, as unfishable. Meanwhile, the lower river, from Carbondale down, is fishable, in spite of the rambunctious and off-color flows of the wild-running Crystal River.
The overall picture changed to the better Sunday night after the weekend cool spell (it was 41 degrees Monday morning in Aspen) slowed the melt, and Roaring Fork flows were down to 2,370 cfs, according to the river gauge near Glenwood Springs.
A return to hot, dry weather will again cause rivers to rise.
The best advice remains to call your favorite fly shop first if you’re headed to the Roaring Fork Valley.
One place where runoff is not a problem is on the Taylor River north of Gunnison, where flows from Taylor Dam are dropping as the Uncompahgre Valley Water Users continue their water-conscious operations.
“The reservoir is looking pretty good right now, and we think it’s going to get to within eight feet from full in July,” said Mark Schumacher, owner of Three Rivers Resort and Willowfly Anglers in Almont. “We’ve still got a lot of snow in the high country.”
The mountains above Ohio Creek north of Gunnison still carry a blanket of snow, as do the Elk Mountains and Ruby Range above Crested Butte and the Collegiate Range encircling Taylor Park.
“We got a lot of the same storms that hit the Arkansas (River basin), so we were close to 100 percent (snowpack) at the end of the winter,” Schumacher said.
As of Tuesday, the Taylor River was wadeable at 390 cfs, but the nearby East River was at 791 cfs, a level too high for wading, Schumacher said.
“We usually wait for it to go down a bit before we start guiding, but (experienced anglers) won’t have any problems wading (the Taylor),” he said.
The Taylor and the East join at Almont to form the Gunnison River.
After the 2011-12 winter of little snow, the Taylor dropped to 125 cfs by Sept. 1, which made for easy wading but eliminated any thoughts of taking a boat down the river.
Schumacher said the Taylor River this year is expected to hold steady around 250 cfs through the end of August and then go to 200 cfs for a month or so.
“This means we’ll be able to float through September,” Schumacher said.
Updated information on the Taylor, East and Gunnison rivers is available from Willowfly Anglers at 970-641-1303 and online at willowflyanglers.com.
The only hassle, and a slight one at that, is construction has the Taylor Canyon Road closed for about two miles, starting just above Three Rivers Resort.
“There’s really no problem,” Schumacher said. “The detour means going over Jack’s Cabin (cutoff), but that’s only about 11-12 minutes, and then you can drive back down to within a couple of miles of the resort.”
Schumacher said after July 4, the construction is scheduled to move to mileposts 3.5 and 4.5, but there still will be access to Five Mile Bridge.