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Fly Fishing Report, June 29, 2017

By admin - Posted on 29 June 2017

Telluride Fly Fishing Report June 29, 2017

Days ago, not a fish was to be caught in moving water. This is no surprise on the San Miguel, a river that typically peaks around June 15th. The Uncompahgre, too, is late to rise and fall, its north-facing watershed not fully exposed until the right angle rays of the solstice sun. The Gunnison and Dolores are perennial early fisheries. As part of the Colorado Basin water management scheme, water is held back in the Gunnison’s three main stem reservoirs, all of which lie immediately upstream from the Black Canyon. In the parlance of the Bureau of Reclamation, the Dolores is “over allocated,” with the priority water calls belonging to farmers, not fishermen. Both rivers complete their runoff phases in late May or early June most years, yielding major aquatic insect hatches and superb dry fly fishing in the last true days of spring.

In most years. In January, 2017, a shocking weather cycle laid feet and then yards of snow in parts of the Colorado high country. In Crested Butte, headwaters of the Gunnison, 100” fell in three weeks, burying street signs on level ground. Rico, headwaters of the Dolores, experienced so much snow that locals literally could not shovel fast enough to prevent rooves from collapsing. One resident of 40 years observed, simply, “There has never been so much snow in Rico.”

In the Black Canyon, the Gunnison’s high water release exceeded 12,000 cfs, 2,000 cfs higher than anyone has seen in at least 34 years, before which data do not exist. The Upper Dolores has been in runoff condition for more than three continuous months, while the Lower Dolores experienced the longest high water release from McPhee Reservoir since the dam was completed in 1985.

Like a furling curtain, flows dropped by 50% on both the Gunnison and Dolores this week. Eager anglers dove into the rabbit holes of the Gunnison’s daunting trail system, hoping to intersect the legendary salmonfly hatch, already well underway. High water implies that anglers do not fish, not that fish do not feed. The fishable hatch is now almost over, only two weeks after the first opportunists caught trout on dry flies. Richard Post, Fly Shop Manager at Telluride Angler, made two round trips down the Gunnison’s steepest trails over the past 10 days, ascending and descending over 5,000 vertical feet in the hunt. Leaning hard on the fly bin, holding court on a Tuesday morning, he summed up, “It was like the old days. Yesterday was a really long week.”

The San Miguel and Uncompahgre are dropping into shape right on schedule, but for now, all attention is on the Dolores and Gunnison, ribbons fluttering to the south and north from Telluride. As different as any two trout rivers, together they typify the unheralded diversity of trout fishing in southern Colorado.

Dolores River: (230 cfs at Rico, 500 cfs at Dolores) Falling by as much as 15% per day, the Dolores is now largely fishable from Lizard Head Pass to McPhee Reservoir. Snow lingers on the high ridges of San Miguel Peak, Shark’s Tooth and the lofty Wilsons, but a month of intense sun has conquered the mighty snowpack. Above Rico, the Dolores offers some of our best early summer fishing. Trout cling to the banks in the surging currents, challenging the caster to “tea cup” the presentation. Short casts and high stick dead drifts are most useful, because line on the water is swept surely downstream, a dragging fly in tow. A drift of 5-10 seconds would be considered exceptional, but longer the better. Water temperatures are still nowhere near 60 degrees, when trout move freely to take flies confidently from the surface. A slow drifting fly is more easily appraised and consumed. Hatches, too, are moving slowly.

July’s innumerate mayflies remain an assumption. A few caddis and stray stoneflies clunk around near the banks, but mass emergence will be triggered only be the passing of time and rising water temperatures. By late next week, we expect Pale Morning Duns, Callibaetis, caddis, midges and Yellow Sally stoneflies (which trout evidently find delicious), all to be in the air. The diversity of aquatic insects that hatch in early July prohibits trout from becoming selective. At times, they will key on the Callibaetis and PMDs, but feeding activity during this part of summer could be characterized as voracious. A fish that feeds only on mayflies is simply indulging itself, like a Thanksgiving diner who drills all of his sweet potatoes in ten bites before returning to egalitarian grazing. Rising fish are usually eating a specific insect, but the nymphs of all others will take fish throughout the day, hatch or no hatch.

Most effective nymphs include larger imitations, such as the Pat’s Rubber Legs and King Prince, as well as small, bright flies with heavy beads or dense materials, such as the Copper John, Wired Stone and Psycho Prince. The San Juan Worm finds its calling in early July, alongside the Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear, Tungsten Sally and Poxyback Stone. The Mayhem, Micro May, Juju Baetis, Splitback Nymphs and RS2 variations will come into their own once the Dolores drops into the 100 cfs range in mid-July. Free rising fish want a semi-technical mayfly imitation. The Extended Body PMD, Silhouette Dun and Hairwing Dun are house favorites, along with the Para Red Quill and any Rene Harrop CDC pattern. When fishing dry-dropper, best to use a high floating mega dry, like a size #8-10 PMX, Bugmeister or Chernobyl Ant. Fish will occasionally flash to these patterns, but their primary purpose is to sneak a nymph into close quarters without the strike indicator’s proclamation.

Gunnison: (1,170 cfs in the Black Canyon): Water retreated and stoneflies were already hatching. The giant salmonfly hatch still lingers in the upper Black Canyon, but is fading fast below the Chukar trail. For those of us who missed the elusive hatch, the good news is that the most dependable fishing of the year in the Black Canyon takes place in the following month. The salmonfly hatch can be the most powerful trout fishing event on the planet, but its streaky nature leaves many anglers wondering how they could play their cards differently. During the salmonflies, it’s all about the salmonflies, but early July welcomes a profusion of long-hatching aquatics that invite the fly fisher to reach for the far corners of one’s fly box. The variety is enticing to trout and angler alike: giant golden stones, Yellow Sallies (2-3 sizes and colors), Pale Morning Dun mayflies, midges and caddis, all of which hatch for weeks and mask the approach of the Gunnison’s second alpha hatch: grasshoppers. In high water years such as this one, flooded banks breed extraordinary terrestrial populations. Hoppers can carry Black Canyon dry fly fishing into mid-August as aquatic hatches dwindle. We catch a disproportionate number of large fish on hoppers because, like the giant salmonfly stones, a grasshopper makes a fine meal.

Expect the trout to rely more on grasshoppers as summer advances. Over the next month, emerging insects will trigger consistent feeding. While dry fly fishing will be intermittent, the month of July is the single best period of summer for nymphing. Most anglers may prefer to cast a dry fly, but the Gunnison’s complex pocketwater and iconic riffles beg for two nymphs under a strike indicator to a degree that causes remission. Nymphing the Black Canyon engages the imagination like a wrapped present or fully dressed swimsuit model. Every strategic detail hinges on intuition: fly pattern and weight, fish location, dynamics of the drift and sensing a subtle take. One of the greatest rewards in fly fishing is the moment when our guesses are confirmed, we set the hook with hope and a heavy trout takes flight above the mysterious canvas of flowing water.

This is the time to use old-world observation and match-the-hatch tactics. Yellow Sallies and PMDs generally hatch in the late morning. Best nymphs for these include the Tungsten Sally and Walker’s Mayhem, both in sizes #16-18. Caddis hatch primarily in the evenings, but since they live for over a week, they may be active during different parts of the day in any section of the river. Caddis emergers, fronted by the legendary LaFontaine’s Emerger, are among the most consistent patterns in July. The Pulsating Caddis and Guide’s Choice Hare’s Ear also belong in every angler’s fly box. The inveterate method of swinging a caddis emerger often triggers strikes when a productive drift has come to an end. Tighten up and let her swing.

Experiment with dry fly fishing during strategic parts of the day, especially during active hatches and in the evenings. Caddis will attract fish to the surface throughout the Black Canyon. Below the Smith Fork, where the walls fall back and sun shines for longer hours, hoppers may be fished all day long, especially in shallow water and along cutbanks. When floating from the Chukar Trail, keep in mind that everything changes when you exit the Hall of the River Kings and pass the Smith Fork. A deep canyon river becomes one of broad riffles and shallow water habitat. Lighten and shorten your nymph rigs. Fish smaller nymphs. Try that hopper again, perhaps with a caddis emerger dropper. Streamer action is rarely consistent between the upper and lower sections of this float. If sculpin and crayfish patterns didn’t work in the heart of the canyon, give them another chance. The Gunnison, like all great trout streams, is many rivers in one.

A snapshot forecast for the Uncompahgre and San Miguel
Uncompahgre: (345 cfs at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk): The Uncompahgre's snowpack was among the lightest in Colorado this year, a mystifying fact given that its headwaters lie less than 10 miles from those of the Dolores. Releases from Ridgway Reservoir peaked at under 800 cfs and are now on the drop. Fish were caught throughout the high water period and excellent angling will resume now that flows have dropped below 350 cfs. Come out fishing technical mayfly nymphs, including Barr's patterns, the Mayhem, RS2 variations and other Colorado classics. Midges play an important role throughout the early summer, even when larger aquatics may be present. The current flow range is superb for streamers, so don't be afraid to abandon match-the-hatch tactics completely.

San Miguel River: (600-800 cfs below Placerville) The San Miguel peaked about ten days ago and has begun its long fall to fishable conditions. The main branch won't be in shape until the second week of July, but feeder creeks will clear sooner and local lakes are fishing terrific. Trout Lake, Priest Lake and Miramonte provide entertaining angling all day long. Trout rise reliably in the evenings, but morning and mid-day have also been productive. Every lake has its “tricks.” Please call the shop or stop by for specific fly recommendations and tactics.

   








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Box 685, 121 W. Colorado Ave.
Telluride, CO 81435
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