The latest news I’ve received on the Animas River spill in southwestern Colorado is that the river is actually fishing really well now. (These photos were taken in the past two weeks, showing the type of brown trout that have made the Animas one of my five favorite rivers in the United States.) In fact, based on what I’m seeing and hearing, I am making plans to fish the river next spring. I think the Animas will become one of the best “sleeper” destinations in the country, since angler pressure will likely be down because of what people saw of the spill.
It always amazes me how resilient fish and rivers can be. I’ve seen rivers so swollen with dirty flood water that I’ve wondered how anything could possibly live in them. But sure enough, once the water dropped, the trout were working away, just like they always had. Likewise, I’ve seen fires sweep over rivers, and the ensuing sludge that blankets the river bottom when the rains come no doubt has an impact on the fish and the bugs. But given time, those places can come back, too.
The reports from the Animas have a lot to do with the type of river it is, and it has one hugely important thing going for it: It’s a freestone river. It always gets the natural flush in spring, some years bigger than others, of course. But if the San Juans get a good snowpack, a lot of the spill will to be washed away. In fact, according to my friend John Flick, who has co-owned Duranglers fly shop in Durango since the early 1980s, if the spill had happened in peak runoff rather than when the water is low and clear, we might not have seen such an ugly picture as we did.
I say that, however, not to forgive those responsible for the crud that got washed into the river, or to divert attention from the real issue that we have abandoned mines throughout this country. We need to change the laws and processes so that the river can be cleaned up properly, because polluting is never good for fishing, even if the fish are resilient enough to take the sucker punches we throw at them. And yes, we will need to keep an eye on the Animas to see how this all unfolds in the long term.
As for catch-and-release fly anglers, I see no reason why not to fish the Animas at this point. In fact, just like I did after Katrina and the BP oil spill in Louisiana, and the floods in the Rocky Mountain National Park, I tend to go where natural disasters occured sooner rather than later, knowing my dollars are spent in places where local businesses have been hurt. I encourage you to think the same way about the Animas. Or, of course, if you’re not concerned about being a do-gooder, you can always just go there to hook a bruiser trout.