Western Slope rivers benefit from storms

Two anglers try their luck Monday at the confluence of the North Fork and Gunnison rivers. Recent rains have brought new life and new color to the North Fork and other Western Slope rivers.

REDSTONE — Dare it be said in this year of semi-drought? Sunday, midway through what the Chinese zodiac calls the Year of the Water Dragon, the Crystal River was too high to fish.

Not your normal runoff, bank-to-bank too high, but flash-flood type too high, remnants of a thunderstorm earlier slamming the high country around McClure Pass.

The river rose quickly, spiking from around 150 cubic feet per second early Sunday to more than 300 cfs in a few hours.

Every gully in the narrow Crystal River Valley that could flood did, and the storm left roads strewn with rocks, gravel and piles of mud.

A few days earlier, the river, one of the few left undammed in the state, was slipping along at 100 cfs, clear as its name and almost too low to fish.

The storm changed all of that, and Sunday afternoon the river was milky and turbulent, no longer inviting.

Similar effects from the storm were seen along the North Fork of the Gunnison River on the west side of McClure Pass.

This river, which melds into the main stem Gunnison River at the Pleasure Park near Austin, had been as clear as it gets (which means a bit off-color) and wadeable through Saturday, but by Sunday the flows had doubled, and wading was a bit iffy.

A couple of anglers crossed the North Fork right at the confluence, which meant after fighting the current on the far bank, they faced scrambling up the steep bank.

One of the immediate benefits from the higher North Fork flows was Cy Wilson and her family could take a ride on the dragon’s back.

Wilson, a Paonia native now living in Talkeetna, Alaska, was sitting patiently Monday on the rocky beach at the Pleasure Park, her daughter Myka, 8, nearby.

“We’re waiting for my dad to get back from the shuttle,” explained Wilson, who said her husband is a bush pilot in Alaska and his busy time is the short summer, which means they rarely get to Colorado in the summer. 

“It’s nice to be able to float the river. I haven’t done this for years,” said Wilson, whose father, Ron Gill of Paonia, was dropping a vehicle near a takeout at Austin.

The rains also caused a decrease in releases from Crystal Dam, and Tuesday the Gunnison below the East Portal was at 520 cfs.


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