Boaters, fishermen enjoying local streams in Colorado’s high country
By the numbers
394: May 28 river flow, in cubic feet per second at Avon.
1,020: May 28 peak river flow at Avon, measured in 1993.
230: May 28 streamflow at Gore Creek.
59: May 28 snow depth, in inches, at a measurement site atop Fremont Pass.
77: May 30 forecast high temperature for Avon.
Sources: U.S. Geological Survey, National Weather Service.
EAGLE COUNTY — Most years, spring brings us a river that’s good for boating, but bad for fishing. This year is different.
A combination of a relatively dry winter, combined with a wet spring, has created entertaining conditions for river-runners and fishermen alike. And, for Bob Streb, the first five months of the year have been nearly magical.
Streb, a senior guide with Minturn Anglers, said the first three months of the year brought open water, calm conditions and relatively warm temperatures. That’s unusual for the season. And, Streb said, the dry conditions had many people concerned about whether the valley was in for a repeat of the historic drought year of 2012.
Then May happened.
“We’ve gotten water back that we were missing six weeks ago,” Streb said. Springs storms have “turned the tide 180 degrees” from worry to optimism.
Meanwhile, people who raft, kayak and paddleboard the river are also enjoying life. Longtime local river-runner Ken Hoeve said warmer weather in the forecast should boost snowmelt — and streamflows — just in time for next week’s GoPro Mountain Games.
Homestake Creek above Red Cliff is coming up now, Hoeve said, adding that there’s still a good deal of snow at the higher elevations.
From top to bottom, “there’s just everything now in the county,” Hoeve said.
Snow-measurement stations run by the U.S. Geological Survey show just how much snow still remains at the higher elevations.
While the measurement station on Vail Mountain stayed well below historic averages during the most recent snow year — roughly Oct. 1 through May 1 — the snow there is melting more slowly than it usually does, a product of a wet, cool spring.
But the snow measurement stations at Copper Mountain and Fremont Pass — both higher than 11,000 feet and near the high-elevation snowfields that feed Gore Creek and the Eagle River — tell a more optimistic story.
At Copper Mountain, the snow water equivalent — a measurement indicating how much water is in snow — has matched its historic average and is melting more slowly.
At Fremont Pass, perhaps the most important site when looking at water supplies in the upper valley, the snow water equivalent far exceeds the historic average, and it has yet to really begin melting.
That’s good news for water supplies, at least right now.
But, Streb said, just about anything can happen. Sustained warm temperatures and wind can greatly accelerate the snowmelt.
When the big melt does come — which could take some time, given that forecast temperatures for Vail are only in the 60s and low 70s through June 6 — the water will become more muddy and move more quickly. That’s going to discourage fishing for a while, when it comes.
For now, though, life is good.
Streb said he’s currently in the midst of a boating-certification course that has taken him all over this part of the county.
“Right now, boaters and fishermen are sharing (the stream) like we do in July,” he said.
Less-active streamflows right now also mean there are spots for people to safely wade into the water.
And people who are fishing are finding good conditions. Winter’s cold and iced-over streams usually stresses fish, leaving them thin and vulnerable. But, Streb said, a relatively warm winter and open water has left fish well-fed and healthy this time of year.
If these conditions hold up for a while, then that’s good news for the warmer months, too, since trout generally don’t fare well when river temperatures hit 70 degrees.
As this year has shown, just about anything can happen over the coming weeks, but right now, conditions are good for just about anyone who plays in a stream.
But the great conditions here don’t mean much just a few miles downstream. Despite a wet May, the U.S. Drought Monitor lists about 40 percent of Eagle County as “abnormally dry,” and much of the West, particularly California, remains gripped in a historic drought.
“We can’t afford to get comfortable here,” Streb said. “We need to stay proactive and cautious, and keep striving to save this water.”
Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930, firstname.lastname@example.org or @scottnmiller.
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