If you’re a farmer, rancher or fly-fisherman, your theme song most likely is “Rain, Rain, Come Again and Again and Again.”
The only way you’re not aware there is a drought in Southwest Colorado is if you didn’t read Monday’s Durango Herald or you live in a vacuum tube or the computer cloud.
Regardless of the cause of the drought, it’s real, and it is affecting fly-fishing. While the recent afternoon rains are wonderful, area streams are dry, and they will be for some time.
To add further doom and gloom, visit two websites that my friend and fly-fishing buddy Steve suggested I check out: http://sanjuanflows.info/reservoirs.aspx and www.usbr.gov/uc/water/basin/tc_sjcr.html. These sites graphically show the water levels in surrounding lakes. It is going to take a long time to bring those levels back to where everyone wants them.
So with those facts facing you, where can one fly-fish?
The first place to head is the Animas River. Even though it is lower than usual for this time of year, it is fishable. I will point out that most of the fish in the Animas are really small. Therefore, if you’re into numbers and not size, I suggest you cast your fly from the high bridge upstream to the pedestrian bridge. Use any dry fly pattern size 18 or smaller. If you use a fly larger than an 18, the fish won’t be able to take it.
If you just have to head for the mountain streams that are close – Hermosa or Lime creeks – be gentle. There will be fish, they will be hungry and many will be trapped in pools having no exit. Assuming you practice catch and release, this would be a good time to fish hookless. Really, I am serious. The fewer times those fish are handled, the better chance they have of surviving. The warm, slow, shallow creeks are stressful on trout.
OK, you don’t want to stay in town fly-fishing for small trout, and casting your fly for stressed-out trout is not your bag. Where should you go? If driving 1½ hours each way is acceptable, there are a couple of options.
First is the Dolores River east of the town of Dolores. In that watershed you have the West Dolores and the Dolores rivers. I have fished there twice in the last two weeks and found more water than here. If it is raining, though, there is a good chance the rivers will be too muddy to fish. The ground is so dry that all runoff goes downhill and doesn’t stop until it flows into the river.
The second option is the area around Silverton. The headwaters for the Animas are there along with several smaller streams. You also can go further up the mountain, over a pass and find the Rio Grande.
If you have more than one day to spend traveling and fly-fishing, the Arkansas and Rio Grande rivers are good options. Between South Fork and Creede there is a fair amount of public access to the Rio Grande. Just make sure where you enter the river is not posted. The Arkansas River has miles and miles of public water. It is a great river to fly-fish with lots of nice-sized trout hungry for dry flies.
If lakes are where you like to fly-fish, they are not without their own problems. First, they are at record-low levels. That can make navigating challenging if not downright dangerous. The record lows make the water warmer than usual. With the warmer water, fish you catch will have to be handled gently. Even the hardy bass need to be treated with kid gloves.
Reach Don Oliver at firstname.lastname@example.org.