Wed May 24th, 2017
Special to the Drum
Spring is here, run-off will soon be over, and all the streams will be fishable, in your dreams. We still have a bike race that has a history of giving us one last snowstorm. That’s on top of a record snow year. Let’s hope for the best, but mentally prepare for one more snowstorm. So, what’s a dedicated fly fisher to do? If you have a boat or float tube, go find a body of water and fly fish. But what if one doesn’t own something that floats on big bodies of water? Fear not, I have four suggestions for places to fish during the high runoff.
The first is the San Juan River. Even though the San Juan is beginning to experience a man-made high and fast runoff, there is good fly-fishing to be had. The release from the dam will slowly reach 5,000 cubic feet per second (cfs) and will be sustained at that flow for a couple of weeks. That is too high, and way too dangerous, to wade. However, when the river is brought up to those levels it creates back channels that are fishable. As you drive along the road that parallels the river, County Road 511, pull over and see where the back channels and ponds are. Once you have their location set in your mind, it can be a fairly easy walk to get to them. Don’t be discouraged; one of the biggest rainbows I ever caught was in a back channel during a 5,000 cfs release.
Next, go north to two of my favorite early spring locations. Once the gate at Road 578 to Hermosa is opened, you have a great opportunity for early small stream fishing. The east fork of Hermosa River provides great spring fly-fishing. The area that flows behind chairlifts 3, 5 and 8 at Purgatory provides some of the earliest and best small stream fly-fishing I know. The gentle slope of the valley allows the water to flow at a wadable cfs rate, and the cutthroat trout are eager and hungry to eat dry flies. There are some deep corner pockets in this stream, so be careful.
Further north is Howardsville. For those of you not familiar with this little ghost town area, it’s just north of Silverton on Colorado 110. I realize that most of you think the only thing north of Silverton is the Animas River and the mine that polluted the Animas. The area that I like to fish up there is the beaver ponds. I bet many of my fellow fly fishers are not aware of these ponds. There are a series of ponds linked to each other, located on the west side of 110. The ponds are easy to get to, and they provide hours of fun dry fly fishing. The fish are small but real quick. This is also an ideal spot to take someone just getting into fly-fishing.
If none of these areas tickle your fancy, try Williams Creek. Williams Creek is a tailwater that comes out of Williams Reservoir. The creek and reservoir are located north of Pagosa Springs. Unlike the tailwaters coming out of Vallecito and Lemon lakes, Williams Creek flows through lots of public land and gives you many locations to fish. I’ve fished Williams Creek several times and have always found it productive and worth the drive. Before you go, be sure to check to see how much water is being released from the reservoir. You’d hate to drive that far only to find record amounts of water flowing out of the dam.
If these locations sound like too much work, or you only have a few hours to fly fish, Havilland Lake just north of town, east of Highway 550, and Pastorius east of town are fishable from the shore.
So don’t despair, even with a projected high runoff, there are lots of options for fly-fishing. If you don’t care for my suggestions, look at any map of the area and get creative on other spots to fish. Just let me know where they are. I won’t tell anyone, I promise.