Boaters, fishers enjoying Eagle County river conditions | VailDaily.com

Boaters, fishers enjoying Eagle County river conditions

EAGLE COUNTY — Whether they float or fish, this looks like a good year for people who play on local rivers.

The spring runoff has peaked, at least for now, but cool weather the last week or so has kept streamflows steady, if still lower than historic averages. That means there's plenty of water for those who want to boat the rivers. The cool weather has also kept the streams relatively clear and fishable in places.

At Minturn Anglers, general manager Logan Johnson said the upper Colorado River is running clear enough for fishermen to take advantage of a salmon fly hatch. There's often too much mud in the river to take advantage of big fish rising to take those big bugs, so it's a good time to take advantage, he said. In other spots, though, rivers are still too cloudy and too fast.

That's when fishing guide companies take clients to ponds or high-elevation streams that are still running fairly calm and clear. This year, though, Fly Fishing Outfitters general manager John Muir said the upper Colorado looks like it will be a "viable option" until the Eagle River is fishable.

At Camp Hale, Nova Guides has just this year expanded a pond on its property there. John Knight, the company's sales and marketing director, said river conditions of the last two years prompted the move.

The last two years brought different extremes to area rivers. In 2011, runoff from a gigantic snow year was great for rafters, kayakers and others, but delayed the river-fishing season on the Eagle until well into the summer. The summer of 2012 was marked by little runoff and low streamflows. That was good for early-season fishing, but shortened the rafting season.

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The 2012 season wasn't even all that great for fishing. Johnson said high water may delay fishing trips, but is ultimately good for rivers, flushing out silt and bringing new food supplies. Low flows don't help either of those natural processes.

And the low flows and hot weather meant fishing guides were taking trips early, or not at all, by the end of July.

"Last year we'd be done with trips by 10 or 11 in the morning," Johnson said. "We were picking up people at 4 in the morning."

Fly Fishing Outfitters has access to a stretch of river just west of Wolcott. Muir said the company stopped fishing that popular stretch of stream altogether by August of 2012. Instead, the company took clients to cooler waters at higher elevations.

This year is a different story. People in both the fishing and rafting businesses say this cool, relatively wet spring has them optimistic for the season to come.

Ken Hoeve spends a lot of his time on the river kayaking, his sport of choice. Hoeve said this season has already been a good one for the people he's seen on the rivers.

"The weather's been perfect," Hoeve said. Besides his boating friends, Hoeve said he's seen people fishing just about everywhere he's been paddling, from Dowd Junction to the lower Eagle to the upper Eagle at Gilman.

"There are places where people can either wade or take a (boat)," Hoeve said. And, he added, people have been fishing since about March, when the ice first started coming off the streams.

But what the weather has given, it can also take away. A string of very warm days will cloud streams again, and the faster snow melts from the high peaks the shorter the rafting season . But that isn't likely to happen for at least the next several days. The seven-day forecast for Vail the National Weather Service posted May 31 called for overnight low temperatures in the 30s and daytime highs in the 60s. More days like that will both extend the rafting season and maintain current fishing conditions.

"I think June's just going to be insane — a river-runner's dream," Hoeve said. "And the fishing early this season was phenomenal."

Vail Daily Business Editor Scott Miller can be reached at 970-748-2939 or at smiller@vail daily.com.