Waiting on water
Spring fishing slow with the flows on Gunnison
AUSTIN — Early Sunday, with the sun’s burning eye still hidden behind the ridges squeezing the Gunnison River near its confluence with the North Fork, Bob Dewaard already was headed home to Basalt.
Dewaard had fished the Gunnison on Saturday and then spent the night at Cottonwood Campground, a bare-bones hitching place a mile and a half downstream of the confluence.
I encountered Dewaard at the Bureau of Land Management parking lot/staging area at the foot of Smith Mountain, where H75 Road snakes over the ridge and turns into South River Road, working its way to the confluence and the west trail head along the Gunnison River.
Dewaard said he was getting a fast start on a long day, meaning he was headed back to the Roaring Fork Valley via Delta and Grand Mesa after a business stop or two along the way.
“I’d love to stay longer. This is such a beautiful canyon,” said Dewaard, who lives in a pretty attractive river canyon himself. He said he normally fishes the Roaring Fork River because “it’s just outside my door,” but he opted for a day on the Gunnison as a treat to himself.
“There were only two or three people on the river yesterday,” Dewaard said. “But after the weather came up, everyone left, and I had the river to myself. And it barely sprinkled.”
Depending on your outlook, he either had a lot of river (no other anglers) or not much river, since flows were down around 380 cubic feet per second.
River flows have fluctuated in the recent month, and bank-side watchers had expected flows to be up, around 800 cfs, by last weekend after an earlier drop to allow some work on the power plant at Blue Mesa Reservoir.
That work wasn’t completed as early as planned, and this meant whatever water was going downstream through the Gunnison Gorge came from Morrow Point Reservoir.
“Blue Mesa is basically shut down. There’s nothing coming through there,” said Erik Knight, hydrologist for the Bureau of Reclamation’s West Region office in Grand Junction, during a conversation Monday. “Any water is coming out of storage at Morrow Point.”
The power-plant work is expected to conclude this week, but Knight was cautious about saying when and how much water will be released from Blue Mesa and whether those releases will affect the Gunnison Gorge (see story below).
“The fishing was sort of slow,” Dewaard said. “I saw a lot of Blue-winged Olives on the water, but the fish weren’t interested in dry flies.
“But I put on a big 20-Incher (nymph pattern) and immediately caught a real nice rainbow.”
Among the few anglers along the river between the Pleasure Park and the newly rebuilt Relief Ditch Dam was Andy Meehan, owner of Solitude Outdoors in Cedaredge, along with Cedaredge residents Gary Mitchell and Ed Kehoe, the new president of the Gunnison Gorge Chapter of Trout Unlimited.
Meehan didn’t have many fish to report, although Kehoe displayed a photo of Mitchell nuzzling a 14-inch rainbow he caught on a size 20 or 24 BWO nymph pattern tied by Cedaredge resident Gale Doudy
“He thought he was hooked on something,” Kehoe said with a laugh. “He kept pulling and pulling, and pretty soon it pulled back.”
Meehan said Mitchell’s fish “probably was the nicest fish we caught all day. The river’s a bit cloudy, but it’s cleared up a lot after they quit releasing water from Paonia Dam.”
This stretch of the river has seen increased use since the BLM put in several parking lots and boat ramps, providing more river access for anglers and recreational boaters.
But as Meehan noted, it’s still spring, and the river changes on a daily basis.