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Epic runoff will lead to big mid-summer, autumn fishing
Patience advised as rivers are rising

While the solstice is still a couple days away, summer has arrived in the Mid-Valley. With massive snow melt resulting in high, fast and potentially dangerous water more suited to rafting and kayaking, local experts say it’s going to be at least a few weeks until the region sees what could be one of the best fly-fishing summers in recent memory really gets started.

Guide Cameron Villa of Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt said the water is high now, but keep watching because, “it’s just going to keep steadily climbing, especially the ’Pan.”  

“It’s at 700 (cubic feet per second, as of June 18), and it’ll probably go up another 15 to 40 cfs every day for a while. The Colorado’s really blown out – it’s over 14,000 cfs, and the Roaring Fork is about half that.” 

He advised caution, saying, “It could be a little bit dangerous. You’re going to want to avoid trying to wade, definitely avoid trying to cross.” At least, he estimated, until about mid-July.

The owner of Carbondale’s Crystal Fly Shop, David Johnson, said with a chuckle that, “Well, fish like water…” but he looks for a similar timeframe until local streams calm enough for safety, and good fishing.  

Frying Pan Anglers
Fishing supplies of all kinds take up a wall at Frying Pan Anglers in Basalt. - photo by Jim Williams
“It’s going to be a little painful in the short term. For the early season, it’ll be a big, epic runoff, but we’ll have a big mid-summer and a really good autumn. A lot of rivers are going to be really tough fishing, if fishing at all, until probably at least the first week of July.”

Not that there’s no fishing to be done; there are plenty of opportunities. According to Johnson, “Rivers like the Fryingpan, the Gunnison and the Blue (Summit County), some of them are still going to be fishable, because they tend to clear out.” That is, you'll be able to see the bottom, which Johnson said is the best way to determine if the water you're in is indeed fishable.  

He added that the lakes and reservoirs are fine alternatives while the rivers run high and fast.  

One of the biggest and deepest, of course, is Ruedi Reservoir above Basalt.  

Johnson noted, “It’s got a lot of different fish in it. There’s a lot of opportunity for spin fishermen up there as well, but fly fishermen will often fish up there towards the inlet. You can fish anywhere, with any type of gear, on Ruedi.”  

He also suggested lake fishing for northern pike, bass, and trout at Rifle Gap and Harvey Gap, and pointed out that Beaver Lake near Marble is full of trout.

Significant economic driver

Once the rivers calm and live insects start hatching, hungry fish who’d been losing weight fighting the currents will be anxious to bite the artificial bugs you throw out there.  

According to Cameron Villa: “After this runoff, the fishing’s gonna be on fire, I’d say. The dry-flying will be great. The fish will be pushed up toward the shoreline, then as that water starts coming down, they’ll still be there. So you’ll have a great opportunity for a few days after the runoff to get out there and catch some fish.”

Local experts agreed that a variety of the flies they carry should attract the streams’ inhabitants to one’s line.  

“I’d expect to be able to use a lot of caddis flies,” Villa said. “The caddis drys should be coming off. We might even start seeing some PMD’s (pale morning duns) and drakes toward the end of the runoff.  

“The sturdy-water streamer patterns are very effective. They move a lot of water, create a lot of vibration, and that brings fish in from a long ways away,” he said.

Streamers are bigger than flies, similar to the old minnow-type lures in your dad’s or grandfather’s tackle box. But these are articulated to “swim,” vibrate as Villa said, and not just look like the bait fish they’re imitating.  

- photo by Jordan Curet
Do you need to tailor your fly to the fish you want to catch? In Villa’s opinion, “not necessarily. You’re going to catch all the species of trout we have with all the different flies. It really depends on where you put it, and which stretch of river you’re in.”

David Johnson agreed, especially when “that time” comes and the real insects hatch. He said, “Right after runoff there’s always the green drake hatch on many of the rivers of Colorado. The green drake is probably the most famous and well-known mayfly on western rivers. It’s large, so that helps the fish gain their weight back right away. Just before that, there’s always a pretty strong flurry of caddis, and pale morning duns, then the drakes take off. That’ll probably be more early July than late June.” 

As the local industry continues to grow, the cash brought in by fishing is already significant.  

Basalt Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Kris Mattera noted that outdoor recreation is a huge portion of what makes this area economically viable.  

“Particularly within Eagle and Pitkin counties, tourism-related activities account for roughly 60 percent of the economic drivers here.” She added that figure could be a bit skewed, since Aspen and Vail are of course giant presences in each county.  

While specifics on what fishing generates are hard to quantify, Mattera said, “As the season warms up, and we have the green drake hatch and a few other activities happening…overall you do see a huge increase in the amount of people traveling to the Basalt area.”  

Mattera also pointed to a unique local fishing bonus, saying, “Because of the water flows coming out of Ruedi, we actually have a year-round fly-fishing season. So it would be interesting to compare numbers between ‘average’ fly fishing, and then that bump when we do have the warmer weather and you wear far less layers under your waders.”  

She said the town of Basalt is working now to better target just how much sales tax, lodging tax and the like come from which industries