A Cure For The Runoff Blues
It’s May 26th, and we are officially into the Spring 2015 Runoff. What was looking to be a below-average flow year only six weeks ago has changed dramatically since then. In mid-April the rain and snow began to fall, and has been falling almost every day since then. Last week I went up to A-Basin, and since that time it’s only kept on snowing up there. Their original closing day of June 7th may be getting pushed back, since their base has been growing this spring when it should be melting off. This is of course a very good thing, because what’s good for Summit County is good for the Blue River, and what’s good for the Blue is good for the Colorado River. Last time I checked, there was 1500 cfs coming out of the Dillon Reservoir, and eleven hundred coming out of Green Mountain. By the time this is over, all of the Colorado River reservoirs (and those on Front Range) should be brimming full.
The exception is Wolford Mountain Reservoir, whose impoundment has shifted more than its original designers foresaw. Since it was finished in 1995, its moved two feet downward, and eight inches out. The Colorado River District is keeping a very close eye on it, and has installed sensors on it to monitor movement, so at least if my world disappears under a furious wall of water someday we’ll get enough notice to get to safety. (Unless I’m already on the river fishing, and twenty blissful miles away from a cell phone signal, that will be some memorable whitewater!) If the dam ever had a catastrophic failure, it would easily be the biggest natural disaster to ever strike Colorado. One estimate I saw guessed that if it ever went all at once, there would be 600K cfs roaring down Muddy Creek into the Colorado just above Gore Canyon. At 12K, the river runs alongside my house and sump pumps run continually to keep it out. I’ve tried to visualize what 600K would look like, and even my fertile imagination is left wanting. Such a flood would take out everything along the Colorado River Road, and I-70 from Dotsero to…Utah? Forget the Union Pacific rail line, and a big chunk of Glenwood Springs, and anything near the river down to Grand Junction. Sounds like a great premise for a Michael Bay movie.
But back to happier thoughts. All this rain we’re getting should be good for the fish for later this summer. It has ended what was some pretty decent spring fishing, but I’ll take the short-term hit in exchange for happy trout in August. However, instead of letting everyone know what they can’t do for the next few weeks, I thought I’d mention somewhere that you can go. My friend and partner Ryan Herbert of Yampa River Anglers tells me the fishing up in the headwaters of the Yampa has been on fire.
That area, also known as the Bear River or Stillwater, has become one of my favorite places to fish anywhere in the state. I had heard about it for a long time, but had been living up here for about seven years before I finally ventured up there. Once I did, I was kicking myself for not getting there sooner. For years, I’d wondered where the headwaters of the Yampa were, for on any map you don’t see any little blue lines labeled “Yampa” until the town of Yampa itself. Turns out that “Yampa” is the Ute word for “Bear”, or at least that’s what I read somewhere. (If there are any native Ute readers who would like to contradict that, please do!). Stillwater (the name I use for the area) consists of three fairly large man-made reservoirs, the upper two of which feel more like natural lakes. You are surrounded on three sides by the escarpment of the Flat Tops, including Flat Top Mountain, the highest point around. In addition, there are some high mountain lakes you can hike to with brookies and cutthroats in them, but if you don’t want to work that hard the lakes below are frequently stocked. It’s also worth noting that, although impoundments are not high enough to create true tailwater fisheries, with low and stable river temperatures and mysis shrimp, they do provide a clear water refuge during times of runoff in the bigger rivers below. Of course, there are lots of lakes this time of year that have that, but how many pieces of moving water can you find that do? Especially ones that are relatively easy to get to, with accessible campsites, facilities and boat ramps. If you are anything like me, lakes can be kind of boring compared to rivers and creeks. But the neat thing about this area is the diversity of the water you can fish. Bank fishing on a lake or pond, check. Want to fish for the big ones from a boat, and cover more water? Check. Fishing your three weight (or Tenkara) on a small stream, check. Want to cook a guilt-free put and take stocker rainbow on a grill only a short walk from where you caught it?, check. For those of you who have seen the powerpoint presentation I give, and have been interested in Derby Creek but don’t want to make the 4WD trip up to it, the Stillwater area is very similar but with far easier access. Of course, with good access comes more people, especially in the summer, but this time of year the crowds are still somewhere else (and so are the mosquitoes).
Oh, one other thing that’s memorable about the Stillwater area is wildflowers. If you’ve ever been to the Bear in June, you would wonder why the columbine (Colorado’s state flower) is protected. If never seen a place with more columbines, they’re like dandelions in the front yard of a repossessed house. If you have a spouse that’s not so much into fish abuse but likes them so amazing flower displays, take them to Stillwater in June. They might be so distracted by the flowers, that they might not notice the fact you’ve been fishing for the last seven hours (works with my wife, but your results may vary).
So if you want to check it out with a guy who knows it better than anyone else, give Ryan at Yampa Valley Anglers a call at 970-819-4376, or email at firstname.lastname@example.org . If you go up there and see an old 4Runner with a huge rocket box up there, stop by and say “hi”, that’ll be me getting in my licks before I start taking all of you out onto the Colorado River. If you have beer I might even tell you about a good spot or two. (Ryan knows way more good spots than I do, but he prefers cash or credit card).
There’s one nice thing about having a decent runoff – the longer it lasts, the hungrier the fish are once its starts to come down and the water clears. That’s when you’ll get your next email from me, right after the peak of the flow. Until then you’ll find me either at A-Basin or Stillwater with a big smile (that rocketbox holds a lot of fun gear!)