Weird weather, high flows make for challenging early-season fishing

Eighty-year old Milo Holton of Cedaredge walks away from Ward Creek Reservoir after a recent fishing trip to Grand Mesa. Lakes on Grand Mesa have opened considerably in the last week and with temperatures expected to stay warm through the weekend, still-water fishing should continue to improve. Rivers and stream, however, continue to run high and fast.

The slate-grey waters of the Crystal River near Marble were high and held little promise Sunday for anglers. There still remains a lot of snow in the high country around Schofield and McClure passes, headwater areas for the Crystal. A weekend filled with rain and high country snows again delayed the 2011 fishing season in the central Rockies.

MARBLE — Maybe it was the brittle-looking slate-gray waters of the Crystal River carving past chokecherries laden with yellow-white flowers, or maybe it was the tracks of the black bear and her cubs crossing the dirty snowdrift near the top of McClure Pass, but something finally convinced me Sunday that summer hasn’t yet arrived in the high country.

It was but two days off from the summer equinox, and a curious outdoorsperson (or a curious person outdoors) can find numerous signs of pending summer.

Pasque flowers decked in pale lavender, yellow and white are out on the Uncompahgre Plateau, chokecherries and service berries are flowering nearly everywhere you look, and the mushrooms of spring — mostly the coveted and hard-to-find morels — are poking up their heads along the tattered hem of snow slowly retreating from Grand Mesa.

But if you were out and about Sunday, whether it was on your favorite golf course or hiking, fishing or camping anywhere above 7,000 feet, you knew that summer had taken the day off.

“Man, it’s miserable and I can’t figure out why I’m here,” said one wind-rumpled angler packing his truck at Beaver Lake near Marble. “It looked good this morning but now it’s like winter again.”

There was a handful of anglers scattered around the lake and a solitary canoeist sliced the water’s dark surface under tarnished aluminum clouds dragging across Schofield Pass.

The truck’s thermometer said 51 degrees but the wind pushed that to around 40, enough to make heavy fleece the clothing choice of the day and waders the preferred style of pants.

“Nope, pretty slow,” called another angler who was standing about 30 yards or so into the lake, casting a fly rod. “There’s a few risers but I can’t seem to find the right fly.”

It’s no wonder so many anglers are trying the lake method — streams continue to run high and discolored, even in places where the water should be clearing by now.

Brush Creek near Aspen is out of its banks but fishable, if you could reach the water through the willows and other brush.

With the water high up on the banks and pouring through the streamside vegetation, you have to find a way to get close enough to cast without being armpit-deep in willows.

Forget the Crystal, which as expected is still way too high to fish.

Ditto the Roaring Fork, which runs a bit muddy and too exuberant for wading.

There were some boats putting into the Colorado River at Glenwood Springs, but they were whitewater tour guides taking advantage of the river flowing about 23,000 cubic feet per second.

Even the Fryingpan at Basalt was running high and muddy, discolored after recent rains in the Seven Castles area above Basalt.

Plus, the Bureau of Reclamation recently bumped up releases from Ruedi Reservoir to about 850 cfs after recent warm weather in the high country kicked up the inflow.

Kara Lamb, spokesperson for the Bureau’s Eastern Colorado office, said their records show run-off peak down the Fryingpan River historically has been as high as 2,500 cfs.

“Analyses show that the past year most like our current year is 1995,” Lamb said.

The Bureau website ( has a graph comparing the two years.

All this water means the fishing on the Fryingpan is best near the dam, where the water is high but clear.

The downside, of course, is that’s where all the anglers are.

I recently ran into 80-year-old Milo Holton of Cedaredge as he was leaving the wind-swept open water on Ward Creek Reservoir.

“I’m tired of fighting the wind,” said the retired farmer and he went off downhill, stopping his Ford pickup along Colorado Highway 65 where the creek curled close to the road.

There’s been enough sun, wind and rain to open Ward Creek and other Grand Mesa reservoirs, but conditions Sunday certainly weren’t the best for man nor finned beast.

And with the weather forecast calling hot weather after the mountain snow earlier this week, anglers can expect another weekend fighting high flows.

Kebler Pass between Paonia and Crested Butte is open but fishing in the Anthracite Creek drainage remains challenging with high, fast and discolored water.

The East River on Tuesday was flowing at 2,030 cfs and the Taylor River at around 1,000 cfs, which makes an already hard to wade stream even more so.

Reports for the Gunnison River near Gunnison say that river (3,500 cfs) still is clogged with mud, debris and high water.

And don’t even think of heading for Trappers Lake.

As was reported in this space Sunday, as of last week the lake still was frozen and may be headed for its latest opening in 80 years, said Bill de Vergie, Division of Wildlife area manager for the Meeker area.

“This is going to be one of our latest ice-offs ever,” de Vergie said. “We’re usually doing trout spawning by mid-May.”


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