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Low Water Levels Cause Worry in CO, What Will Happen to Fishing?

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May 14, 2012

Low Water Levels Cause Worry in CO, What Will Happen to Fishing?

By Kirk Deeter

If you're planning on visiting Colorado to do some fly fishing this year, you might want to do so sooner, rather than later. In stark contrast to last season when above average snowpack had rivers and streams brimming well past the 4th of July, this year's abnormally low snowfall amounts have left many wondering if there will be any runoff at all in some watersheds.

Scenes like this surging spillway are increasingly rare. Denver is more than 35 percent below average rainfall for the year. Snowpack levels in some drainages are less than 20 percent. And many high country rivers, like the Colorado, Arkansas, and Gunnison are experiencing significantly (some historically) low flows.

Unless the skies open up soon, the outlook is that many rivers will be running at little more than a trickle this season, even below major dams. The Gunnison, for example, is expected to see peak flows of 900 cubic feet per second, with base flows around 300 cfs through the summer. By comparison, last year during runoff the Gunny raged at 15,000 cfs.

That's certainly bad news for kayakers and rafters, and it may spell tough times ahead for anglers as well. However, if you look at the glass (or in this case river) half full, sometimes these low water years offer epic angling opportunities. For example, anglers almost never see a June stonefly hatch in low, clear water. In some cases, the dry fly action could go off the charts. And certain stretches of rivers that are normally floated will only be accessible to intrepid wading anglers. If you're willing to hoof it, you'll find plenty of solitude.

Of course, the real worry is over what happens later in the summer--typically the busiest season for shops and outfitters--if the moisture doesn't pick up. The outlook in the northern Rockies is more positive. But the Southwest needs rain in the worst way. Granted, it's all part of a natural cycle, but lately it seems like feast or famine when it comes to snowpack and water levels. This is one situation where being plain "average" sounds pretty darn good.

Comments (4)

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from Dcast wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

La Nina always seems to hurt the worst. You didn't receive the snow/rain, and we got rained on from late Oct-Feb. We almost hit all precipitation records for those 5 months. It will all work out in the end but it will hurt this year.

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from dtbc333 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

Been up in the mountains here in CO a lot lately, and the rivers are the lowest I've ever seen them this time of year. They look like they usually do in late August. Aside from the recreation impacts, it's Gonna make for a bad fire year it looks like. Already had a couple pretty big ones, with another burning near Fort Collins right now. Models show we may get somewhere near normal precipitation through the end of spring and start of summer according to the local meteorologists, so that will help some IF the models are correct. They could of course be off, and we get zip.

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from Koldkut wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

I don't think it's much to worry about, I think a lot of the time their is a "here and now" aspect to any situation that overshadows a larger picture. Last year it was all about the epic runoff, this year, the lack of it. I will enjoy the fishing when I can get out, and Buckhunter may well get to see some early season hopper fishing when he gets out here.

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from dlitten wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

@Koldkut-there were hoppas in Cheese a few weeks ago. I think you are dead on by predicting that hoppa season will come early this year. I'm worried that the low flows will cause the water to be too warm by June/July and put a ton of stress on the fish and turn the fishing off. The carp fishing will be off the chain this summer.

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from Dcast wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

La Nina always seems to hurt the worst. You didn't receive the snow/rain, and we got rained on from late Oct-Feb. We almost hit all precipitation records for those 5 months. It will all work out in the end but it will hurt this year.

0 Good Comment? | | Report
from dtbc333 wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

Been up in the mountains here in CO a lot lately, and the rivers are the lowest I've ever seen them this time of year. They look like they usually do in late August. Aside from the recreation impacts, it's Gonna make for a bad fire year it looks like. Already had a couple pretty big ones, with another burning near Fort Collins right now. Models show we may get somewhere near normal precipitation through the end of spring and start of summer according to the local meteorologists, so that will help some IF the models are correct. They could of course be off, and we get zip.

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from Koldkut wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

I don't think it's much to worry about, I think a lot of the time their is a "here and now" aspect to any situation that overshadows a larger picture. Last year it was all about the epic runoff, this year, the lack of it. I will enjoy the fishing when I can get out, and Buckhunter may well get to see some early season hopper fishing when he gets out here.

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from dlitten wrote 1 year 48 weeks ago

@Koldkut-there were hoppas in Cheese a few weeks ago. I think you are dead on by predicting that hoppa season will come early this year. I'm worried that the low flows will cause the water to be too warm by June/July and put a ton of stress on the fish and turn the fishing off. The carp fishing will be off the chain this summer.

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