RIDGWAY Tailwater fisheries kick off early spring fishing action
By Bill Tiedje
On overcast, cloudy spring days in southwest Colorado, the lull of terrestrial life is suddenly contrasted by the awakening of the region's fishing spots.
Beneath the surface, trout species respond to warmer temperatures and increased stream flows to savor a diet of aquatic insects that begin to hatch under cloudy skies.
"The days when people say, 'Oh, it's crappy I don't want to go out' — those are the days to go out," said Matt McCannel, a fly fishing guide with RIGS Adventure Co.
The blue winged olive, a small mayfly nymph, is among the first insects in Colorado streams to emerge from its pupae stage into a winged adult, making itself vulnerable to trout predation in the process.
The nymphs hatch only under overcast skies because of increased cover from predators.
"The blue winged olive is the iconic bug of spring," said McCannel.
McCannel said during his recent fly fishing trips he had found success mimicking these insects, once onsite weather, hydrologic and hatching patterns were determined.
Tailwater fisheries, such as the Pa-Co-Chu-Puk portion of the Uncompahgre River and the Gunnison River, located below Ridgway Reservoir and Blue Mesa Reservoir respectively, achieve warm temperatures and high flow rates early in the year thanks to reservoir's outflows, explained McCannel.
However, "things change everyday," he cautioned.
Streamflows can vary daily due to reservoir releases.
Atmospheric conditions, such as sunlight and ambient air temperature, also change rapidly this time of year.
Fish respond to these changes and as a result will be located in different portions of the streams, explained McCannel.
Bill Brueggeman, a limited commission ranger at Ridgway State Park, said fishermen at Pa-Co-Chu-Puk should be aware of the possibility of rapidly changing water flows, jumping from 200 cubic feet per second to 800 CFS in as little as 20 minutes, since the dam's turbine is now in operation.
Nonetheless, the fish can adapt to these changes and benefit from a large amount of worms and other nutrients which wash into the stream with the increased flows.
Free-stone streams such as the San Miguel River and the Cimarron River are slower to warm up, thus delaying early spring fishing action.
"Tailwaters are a lot more picky," said McCannel, explaining the water's wealth and diversity of insect life lead to choosy fish.
Some days, the trout will take only two particular flies, McCannel explained.
RIGS Owner Tim Patterson is confident that no matter how picky the fish, RIGS probably has the right fly for the region.
Patterson said the fly shop made an effort to refine their fly selection annually based on trial and error as well as continually to incorporate new products which the fish haven't seen before.
In addition to the early spring hatches, Patterson suggested recent trout stocking efforts in area streams by the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife also contributed to excellent early spring fishing conditions.
"As locals, that's something that we get to take advantage of before the tourists show up," said Patterson.
At Ridgway Reservoir, Brueggeman said a number of fishermen specifically targeting brown trout have caught several trout over 10 pounds in recent weeks.
"The fishing (on the reservoir) this time of year can be outstanding," he said.
Brueggeman reminded fishermen it's time to buy a new license, as 2014 annual Colorado fishing licenses went on sale April 1.
Fishing licenses can be purchased at RIGS Fly Shop, the Ridgway State Park Visitor's Center or online at https://www.co.wildlifelicense.com/start.php.
RIGS staff are privy to an immense amount of regional fishing knowledge and information.
But if you stop by the shop to pick their brains, remember to pick out a few fine looking flies as well.