Fishing prospects ‘on the upswing’ in the Vail Valley
EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – The rapid snowmelt that caused flooding along the Eagle River and Gore Creek in early June took away a few days of playing from river enthusiasts, but those days are long gone now.
Kayakers, rafters and fishermen have been enjoying the river lately, and the fishermen especially are about to enjoy some of the best fishing all summer.
“Fishing is perfect right now; water levels are perfect,” said Mark Sassi, general manager of Gore Creek Fly Fisherman. “Bugs are hatching, and levels are just going to get a little bit lower and get even better for fly fishing.”
The Eagle River’s levels, while becoming perfect for fishermen, are getting a little low for rafters and kayakers, though. Rafting companies planned to run the upper Eagle, through Dowd Junction, through this weekend before moving elsewhere for the rest of the season.
“The Eagle is pure snowmelt, so it’s dictated by rain, warm weather or cold weather,” said John Seelig, owner of Lakota Guides. “Cold weather keeps it and holds it out a little longer, while hot temperatures definitely bring that (water) down faster.”
That’s what happened in early June, when temperatures reached the 80s – the high averages around that time of year are in the mid- to upper 60s, according to the National Weather Service.
The flooding meant that rafting trips stopped for those five or six days when the waters were raging.
“It’s been a weird season,” said Darryl Bangert, owner of Sage Outdoor Adventures. “May was cold, and then the weather got nice and it started getting busy, then the weather got too nice.”
Bangert said his trips down Gore Creek have been more exciting since the floods because so much has changed and moved around that it’s like a new river. The little islands in the creek in and around East Vail are all rearranged now.
“One spot where there was one island, there’s five islands now,” Bangert said. “It’s a great learning experience for our guests to really appreciate the dynamic nature of our rivers.”
The rafting companies throughout the valley all have a gentlemen’s agreement not to run the Eagle River when it’s above 6.5 feet, Seelig said.
“We were only above 6.5 feet for about six days,” he said. “We’re pretty much back to normal for water levels for this time of year now.”
Chris “Mongo” Reeder, a guide with Timberline Tours, said Timberline will stop running the Eagle River after this weekend, too.
He said rafting through Dowd Chutes is still great right now, but it will drop soon.
The lower Eagle River is wider and is already getting really shallow, Reeder said.
“We’ve already moved our Class III trips down to Shoshone on the Colorado River,” Reeder said. “Last season, we were able to get through the Fourth of July (on the Eagle River), but on average, this is how far we’ll get (on the Eagle in a normal season).”
Bangert said he expects to continue running raft trips down Gore Creek until Fourth of July weekend. He said there’s enough snow up in the high, high country to keep the creek up high enough for some trips. When the creek drops lower, his company will start renting tubes for people to float down it.
The Colorado and Arkansas rivers are dam-controlled, so the water is more reliable and lasts throughout the summer, Seelig said.
Many local rafting companies just start driving around the region to chase the water, which is what’s going to happen in the coming weeks.
As for the Eagle River, trips are pretty much ending for the year. Bangert said Sage Adventures will continue to run it from about Wolcott to Eagle for another two weeks, but most other companies have moved on completely to the Arkansas and Colorado rivers.
“Weather will be the driving force,” Bangert said. “We’re hoping for continuing warm weather.”
The Eagle River might be dying out for the season for rafters, but it’s going to start booming for the fishermen.
“Fishing on the Eagle River is really starting to explode,” said John Packer, owner of Flyfishing Outfitters in Avon. “It’s only going to get better in the next few days.”
While rain is a short-term fix for rafters – Bangert said a lot of rain only brings water levels up enough for a day’s worth of rafting – Packer said rain will help the Eagle River out for fishing.
“It’s dropping quickly, so we’ll need to get some rain to help out the Eagle River eventually,” Packer said. “The rain usually comes in July.”
On the Eagle River, optimal flow for wading is anything less than 1,000 cubic feet per second, Packer said. Anything from 500 to 1,000 is optimal for float fishing, he said.
The river is currently just lower than 1,000 CFS, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.
Wade season is really all year, but the float-fishing season is just beginning. That season lasts about a month to a month and a half, depending on rain, Packer said.
Water temperatures also are much warmer now, reaching the low 50s, making river sports a lot more pleasant.
Floating and wading along the Eagle should be “red hot” in the coming weeks, according to Flyfishing Outfitters’ website.
Sassi said there’s a lot of bug activity on the water – a very good thing.
“Things are perfect right now, and everything is on the upswing,” Sassi said.