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.