Frying Pan - Spring Runoff
The spring run-off is an important part of the cycle in the life of a river. It may clean parts of the river out and remove a lot of rubbish. It will also cause the river to reshape itself a little so sometimes you will find that a little backwater or eddy which served you well last year has disappeared and been replaced with a log jam or a deep gutter. A bank may be undercut and result in a large tree falling into the water pushing the course of the water flow away from the bank. All this is good for a river. It introduces debris and material into the river in some parts which will in time support bug life and hence a food cycle for the fish. "Better Trout Habitat" by Christopher Hunter is recommended reading for anyone who has an interest in the evolution of a water course and the development of desirable habitat.
The extent of the runoff depends on the snow pack and the warmth of the spring. If the days heat up rapidly for an extended period and the snow melts quickly the run off will be fast dirty and messy. The runoff is good for the rivers. However, it can discolor the water from time to time. In the increased water flow the fish will tend to find more protected areas. They will locate themselves behind boulders or deep down where the flow is not as fast. The higher volume of water will also cause the fish to spread out more. So if the water is clear enough, the fishing will still be good because the fish have to feed. Just look for the areas where the fish can get some protection from the heavier faster flow.
In the Frying Pan, there is generally clear water because most of the run-off into Ruedi is caught by the dam so that only clear water is released from the bottom. In this respect refer to our discussion of the Frying Pan as a tailwater. Consequently, for most of the time during run-off the Frying Pan will provide good fishing. However, there are occasions when the run-off in the various creeks which feed the Frying Pan will blow out and the water will become discolored. One vulnerable place is just below 7 Castles at about the 4 mile mark. Several time a year very muddy water will run into the Frying Pan at that point and discolor the water all the way to Basalt. The same thing happens in Summer after a sudden thunderstorm when the rain cascades down between the castles and washes mud into the river. The instances are rare. The main thing to remember is that just because the Frying Pan is discolored at Basalt, doesn't mean that it is discolored all the way up to the Dam. So check in at the Fly Shop and ask because it might be worth the drive above the discolored water.
In 2005 because of the late snowfall and heavy rains in April and May followed by very hot weather the run-off came quickly. So quickly and with such volume that the Upper Frying Pan quickly filled Reudi and threatened to go over the top of the wall. As a consequence the water was released at the rate of 400cfs for almost 2 weeks. It did have the benefit of flushing the river but the fishing was tough as the best spots to fish in such conditions were across the river and hard if not impossible to wade to. The water was also discolored while the extra flow flushed out the watercourse. The only good fishing was with weighted nymphs as the fish tended to stay close to the bottom. If one could get to the quieter sections of the river like side channels, big fish were to be found out of the way of the increased flow.
However immediately after the flow was dropped back to normal, the fishing was excellent as the big fish had spread out and were caught in places where we normally saw only smaller fish.
The Colorado River, Roaring Fork River and the Crystal River are all freestone rivers and therefore don't benefit from the same flow regulation that the Frying Pan enjoys. Typically our freestone rivers peak in mid June. They drop faster than they rise, and they clear very fast. This is the time to start floating the rivers again.
The run-off will start first on the Colorado. It is lower down and prone therefore to melt earlier. If the weather remains colder during March, that will hold off the run-off and offer great fishing on the Colorado as the BWO will appear there before they start up higher. However as soon as the run-off starts it will quickly turn to mud and won't be worth floating until later June, early July.
The Crystal will also tend to dirty up quickly being lower and therefore it will feed into the Roaring Fork at Carbondale. The Crystal will get dirty first from Avalanche Ranch and therefore there is always a little fishing higher up for a little longer. However as soon as the dirt starts flowing into the Crystal, it will make the fishing less productive from Carbondale to Glenwood on the Roaring Fork.
Therefore as soon as the run-off start from the Crystal, the best place to fish the Roaring Fork is above Carbondale. The Frying Pan generally remains pristine, so there is only a rare occasion when the Frying Pan will dirty up the Roaring Fork at Basalt.
The Roaring Fork will continue to fish well until the run-off starts from Snowmass and Independence Pass. Being higher and therefore colder longer, this will maintain the fishing for a time. However, as soon as those temperatures start to move up, particularly at night, the Roaring Fork will be dark above Basalt. At this time, the best fishing is on the Frying Pan.
If you watch the water flows, on the Fork, you will note that the height of the run-off is midday at Basalt. This is because the previous days run-off takes that time to peak at Basalt. Therefore as the peak passes each afternoon, the flow drops and it is therefore better to go fishing in the afternoons.
However, as soon as the river starts to drop the water will clear quickly as the flow is no longer covering higher ground. The river bottom will have been cleaned by the previous flow and the water will therefore be clear.