High water challenges anglers | AspenTimes.com

High water challenges anglers

Katie Redding
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado

ASPEN ” This year’s high water may be a boon for boaters, but it has slowed the start of fishing season.

Still, while fly shops and fishing guides say anglers may need more patience and creativity this June, they insist good fishing is out there.

Mike Haas, manager of the fly-fishing guide service at Pomeroy Sports in Aspen, compares the beginning of this year’s fishing season to a ski season opening in a dry year ” all the runs may not be open and don’t have two feet of fresh powder on them, “but there is still fun to be had.”

Moreover, precisely because the fly-fishing season has been slow to open this year, it should last longer. The late-season start ought to keep rivers high and cold into the fall.

“The worst thing for trout is low, warmer water,” said Haas.

Locally, the “freestone rivers” ” rivers without dams ” which include the Roaring Fork River and the Crystal River, are running high right now, say experts. So is the Colorado River.

But Dave Johnson, owner of the Crystal Fly Shop in Carbondale, expects the fishing on at least some of those rivers to pick up in the next week or so, unless “Mother Nature throws us a surprise,” such as torrential rain or a sudden melt.

In the meantime, many local fishing experts agree the Fryingpan River, running at slightly more than 300 cubic feet per second, is fishable right now ” especially higher up.

In the lower four miles, however, conditions may not be ideal. The lower river is still recovering from a mudslide four miles above Basalt last fall, Johnson explained.

Ruedi Reservoir, where feeder rivers come in, also should have good fishing, according to Haas.

Maureen “Mo” Bratcher, a guide with Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt, also recommended East Maroon Creek and Avalanche Creek, suggesting anglers aim to fish the higher sections of these waterways.

Anglers looking to fish lakes ought to pull out the topographic maps and head to those at between 10,000 feet and 11,000 feet in elevation, Haas advised. Lakes at higher elevations are likely to be surrounded by snow and may still be frozen over.

Local fishermen should also consider changing their technique in response to the high water, according to Bratcher. For example, she advised anglers to fish the edges of rivers and in front of rocks. Since the rivers are running fast, fish will be avoiding the mid-river current, she explained. Anglers who can float their fly from the current down to the quiet water near the banks ” where the fish are ” should have a good chance of catching a fish, she said.

Haas agreed, noting that fisherman shouldn’t need to wade much right now.

Bratcher also suggested anglers should use bigger and flashier flies this time of year, recommending caddis flies, midges, pale morning duns and blue wing olives.

“It’s kind of nice ” most of the year we’re trying to fish with little bitty things. These are things you can see,” she said.

But Haas pointed out that conditions continue to change. Thus, anglers ought to consider visiting a local fly shop before heading out, as staff should be able to provide up-to-the-minute advice.

And just as kayakers and rafters should take extra precautions in this year’s high water, so should fisherman, according to Haas. He advised anglers not to rely on their experiences from past years, unless they’ve been fishing locally long enough to remember previous high water years such as 1983-84 or 1995-96. This year’s currents are swift, he said, and the water is cold.

He added that those going to fish high lakes should be ready to encounter snow, and they should bring the proper clothing and footwear.

But whatever the short-term hassles, in the long run, say experts, this high water is good for habitat and fish populations. Johnson pointed out that the recent high flows in the Fryingpan River have flushed silt out of the lower section, which was clogged from the mudslide.

“Some of those channels that had been silted in are deeper now,” he said.

Haas thought the high flows would flush non-native algae from the rivers.

In addition, he believed that species like stone flies ” which prefer cold, highly oxygenated water with little sediment ” should have great habitat this year. Oxygenation improves when water goes through riffles and rapids, sediment is flushed by high flows, and higher water tends to be colder.

More flies could lead to larger fish populations.

“In an angler’s selfish interest,” said Haas, “low water exposes more fish to more people,” But high water, he believes, will bring more and larger fish.

In the meantime, an angler who takes the trouble to travel to fishable rivers and lakes with the right flies should find plenty of fish biting right now, say experts.

“[The fish are] hungry, they’ve been under ice and snow all winter,” explained Bratcher.