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Telluride Fly Fishing Report, July 31, 2013

By admin - Posted on 30 July 2013

Unusual weather pattern brings rain to Colorado

Over the last two weeks, major rain systems brought drought relief to Southwest Colorado. We absolutely count on the monsoon for summer rains. When early July passed without, the pangs of panic began to twist. Fires burned on the Rio Grande and Cimarron; it seemed inevitable that the Dolores or San Miguel would burn, too.

Then came rain. When it rains in Southwest Colorado, it doesn't mess around. In just three days, several inches fell in the Dolores and San Miguel watersheds. The rivers doubled, then tripled, then quadrupled in volume. Fishing on the main stems was more or less wiped out for a week, but as waters receded, the trout appeared in places they had abandoned earlier in the summer. Their habitat was restored and has since been sustained by the monsoon.

Only, it's not the monsoon. This summer, meteorologists have observed a rare super dome of high pressure over the North Atlantic. This impenetrable zone is deflecting the entire easterly weather flow over North America, driving it back upon itself. The result is a massive recirculation from Nova Scotia to Florida that curls back to the west across the Gulf of Mexico, collecting moisture and heat, spinning up through Texas into New Mexico and Colorado. Precipitation blooms in the high mountains, a godsend for dry country.

You've probably never seen a weather map quite like this: WEATHER MAP

How long will this last and what does it mean for our fishing? We have no clear answer to the first question, but meteorologists quip that "abnormal is the new normal." Over the last decade, anomalous weather systems have developed frequently and persisted stubbornly, slowing the pace of change in global weather. Patterns of desirable and undesirable weather have lasted longer than normal. The Southern Rockies are in drought while the eastern seaboard has never been so soggy. Coloradans jokingly ask eastern U.S. visitors to "bring us some of your rain." Interestingly, the current weather pattern does exactly that.

On Sunday morning, a guide offered the following words of consolation to his soaking, shivering client, "Rain? To the fish, it's all just water." Nice.

Dolores: rain puts river back in the river

As we frequently observe at this time of year, no river in Southwest Colorado benefits more from rain than the Dolores. The "River of Sorrows" was reduced to a pitiful trickle in early July, the snowpack long gone and no rain in the forecast. Water temperatures consistently climbed into the mid-70's, driving the sulking trout to the bottom. We had just made the difficult decision to stop guiding the lower sections of the river when the skies opened and everything changed. For most of the last two weeks, we have not guided the river because flows were too high, rather than too low. Even at this writing the Dolores runs higher than the historical average for early August. When considering the effects of low snowpack, it is critical to understand that late summer and fall flows on the Dolores come from rain rather than snow. A high snowpack will not save the Dolores from a dry summer. In this case, a low snowpack has been redeemed by heavy rain. If it keeps coming, we can hope for strong flows and excellent fishing for the next three months.

As we might expect, water clarity and temperature vary daily. After our first storm in mid-July, the Dolores dropped, cleared and fished lights-out for about ten days. Last weekend, the second storm raised the river six-fold. The rain has quit for a few days, so now we wait for the Dolores to recede. This is the rhythm of mid-summer. We can't have great fishing without tough fishing. The angler who prays for rain ought naught complain when the river rises.

The trout are happy and insects are still hatching. The successful fisherman will vary tactics aggressively based upon daily observations. Low, clear water will mandate the use of long leaders and stealthy flies. Remember, until last week, these fish lived in fear. They lived in tiny houses with too many windows. Conversely, high, muddy water liberates the size #8 and #10 representatives in your fly box. Fish big, dark flies in the murk. As a rule, fishing is generally tougher as water rises than as it falls. Wait for the peak, then work the clearing currents with short, stout leaders and highly visible flies. All things equal, the fish really want to eat right now. Mid-summer is their best opportunity to put on weight for the long, thin Dolores winter.

Best August patterns for the Upper Dolores and West Fork

Clear Water
A.K.'s Melon Quill, #16-18
Extended Body Para PMD, #16-18
Silhouette Dun, PMD, #16
Stalcup's Para Caddis Emerger, #16
Bloom's Para Caddis #16
Green River Ant, #16
Kicking Hopper, #12
Mayhem, yellow or olive, #16-20
Micro May, #18-20
Bubbleback Emerger, #18
Soft Hackle Pheasant Tail, #18

Murky Water
Chubby Chernobyl, #10-12
Perry's Bugmeister, #10-12
PMX, yellow, #10-12
Yeager's Neversink Trude #10-12
Frankenhopper, #10
Wire Prince, #12-16
Pat's Rubber Legs, #10
San Juan Worm, #12-14
Befus Wired Stone, #12-14

San Miguel: push the clear water window

Two weeks ago, a massive rain cell cut loose in the upper San Miguel valley, releasing a slide more than two miles long that laid two inches of mud along the banks of the river from Silver Pick Road upstream to the county road sheds. "I've never seen anything quite like it," commented one Placerville local. Telluride Outside's Tom Craddock observed, "I've seen deeper slides, but never longer." The driving rain was the first meaningful precipitation of the season. Since the slide, the San Miguel has been completely unfishable downstream from Sawpit. From experience, we can estimate that the lower river will take 2-3 weeks to clear. Even last week our guides were catching a few fish below Placerville, but permanent clearing will not occur until the afternoon rain pattern stops for the season. If this were monsoonal rain, it would stop just before Labor Day. Since it's not, we can hope that it will stop sooner. There are tradeoffs in every weather scenario, of course. To quote one particularly droll fishing guide, "As always, we'll see what happens next."

Water clarity is observed on a daily basis, the nimble angler making subtle judgments that determine whether to fish dry flies, nymphs or streamers. Guides text weather and water reports from each watershed, the critical data a moving target, plans forming and evolving. The art of guiding is part science and part sorcery.

The lower San Miguel has been off for weeks, but the upper river and South Fork are fishing quite well. Push the clear water window to catch your biggest fish of the year. The water appears deceivingly murky because we see the new silt in the streambed through the water column. Take a closer look. When the fish are hungry, 8 inches is plenty of visibility. Here is the guide's cheat sheet for dirty water fly patterns:

Pat's Rubber Legs, #8-10 (a first ballot hall of famer)
Befus Wired Stone, #10-12
Wired Prince, #12-14
Gunny Bugger, #4-6
San Juan Worm, tungsten bead, #12-14
Tungsten Poxyback Stone, #10-12
BH Copper Stone Red/Yellow, #6-8
Aggravator, #12
Slump Buster, #6-10
Jumbo John, Copper/Orange, #6-8
PMX, #6-8
Bugmeister, #6-8
Frankenhopper, #8
Chernobyl Ant, #8
Chubby Chernobyl, #8-10

Uncompahgre: a river in reverse

Ideal fishing conditions prevail below the Ridgway Reservoir on the Uncompahgre, a pillar of the fishing regime in mid-summer. Dam-controlled rivers often work in "reverse," especially when farms exist downstream. Created for irrigation, the Ridgway Reservoir's first priority is to store and release water for the farmland of Montrose County. When it rains, farms need less water, so releases from the reservoir are scaled back. In hot weather, higher releases fill the ditches. So, contrary to intuition, the Uncompahgre is currently flowing lower than it would under drier conditions. 217 cfs is a wonderful fishing level, the banks full and deep, but clear and easily wadeable. We're in the heart of summer hatch season, fronted by the famous Uncompahgre Pale Morning Dun. Size 16 rust-colored mayflies pour off the river daily from before noon until late afternoon. At this water flow, trout are less inclined to rise, but feed steadily on nymphs during the emergence. Midges hatch every evening and PMD spinners swoop and dive every morning. It's bug city down there, but the fishing is technical.

Your Uncompahgre flies are quite distinct from San Miguel patterns:

Mayhem, yellow or olive, #16-22
Craven's JuJu nymphs, #18-20
Red Headed Stepchild, #18
Winker Midge, #20-24
Hairwing Dun, PMD, #18
Quigley's Split Flag PMD, #18
Harrop's Captive Dun, #18
McKittricks' Drowned Spinner, #18 (tied by our own Jake McKittrick)
Hackle Stacker Dun, #18

Gunnison River: Micro cells rip the Black Canyon

The storm that unleashed our 2-mile mudslide on the San Miguel produced micro cells of unprecedented intensity over the Black Canyon. Flash floods ripped many of the side gulches from the East Portal all the way down to the Smith Fork. Slides occurred into Crystal Reservoir, too, evidenced by the muddy water that flows from the dam. Says 40-year local Chip Lenihan, "This is a once in 500-year event."

Rocks, silt and trees tumbled into the Gunnison, but the trout survived, happily finning and feeding, unmolested by anglers. Thirty miles of the Black Canyon is clearing a hundred yards a day, guides and private anglers poised anxiously to dive back into the gorge. We have begun catching fish at the East Portal and in the National Park, but the lower canyon is agonizingly slow to clear. So, our best advice is to act like a local and buy as much time as possible. The Black Canyon will fish again this summer, just not quite yet. When conditions allow, be the first in the gorge with a 1x leader and a tandem of size #8 stonefly nymphs. Historically, blowout conditions are followed by electric fishing in the Black Canyon.

Book your guides for fly fishing Telluride in August and September: 800-831-6230.
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Telluride Outside

Box 685, 121 W. Colorado Ave.
Telluride, CO 81435
800.831.6230 ~ 970.728.3895
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