Low Flows and Hot Bows

It is a hot and dry year in Colorado. We experienced a very mild winter and an early snow melt, so runoff came and went. Not only did our skiing season get spoiled but now our fishing season is seeing the effects of the dry winter. With a drought year like this one there are fire bans, low flows and stressed out fish. The good news is we don’t have to sacrifice our fishing trips. There are some things we can do as responsible anglers to still have our fun and save our fisheries. We want to make sure we have some trophies to catch next season.

trout fish caught fly fishing in colorado

The facts

Snow pack was 66% of the historic average for the state of Colorado this year. That in turn made the stream and river flows around 50% below average. Low flows can cause a reduction in food production, habitat availability and water quality for our fish friends, not to mention the growth of algae, which is SO annoying. The amount of dissolved oxygen in the water is directly related to water temperature. That means the hotter the water, the less oxygen the fish have. Trout are cold water fish so when water temps get over 68 degrees it becomes lethal for them.

healthy trout river water temperature guide

safe handling of trout from fly fishingAdvice

In order to keep fishing in low flows there are a few things we can do to keep the fish happy and healthy for seasons to come.

You can start by heading to your fishing spot early. Not only will you guarantee your spot for the day, but you can beat the heat. Another option is to fish high altitude streams, at the base of dams and mountain lakes or reservoirs. These chunks of water tend to stay cooler and have a lot of special species living in them. Also, fishing warm water species like bass can make for a fun and safe day in the sun.

ALWAYS take temperatures of the water throughout the day to ensure the environment is suitable for fish to recover after a fight. Most species prefer water that’s less than 62 degrees. I have a Fish Pond thermometer that I hook up to my boot laces and keep in the water all day. I check on it every 30 minutes to follow the rise in temps. Even when I am onto the fish, if the temps get too hot I reel in my line and call it a day.

fish caught and released colorado riverWhen we do catch fish, even in safe temps, we have to make sure we are handling them with care. Starting with getting them to the net in a timely fashion. I’m not saying you should strong arm them (because we all know what will happen if we do that) but 20 minutes of fighting a fish is not ideal either. We don’t want to exhaust them when oxygen levels are low. When taking out hooks make sure you are keeping the fish wet and in the shade if possible.

Try to avoid taking photographs of every fish. I know, I know, sometimes you catch your personal best and have to have proof for your fishing stories. If you do need to take a photo just make sure you have your camera ready and handle the fish as fast as you can. No long photo shoots please. Lastly, make sure you release that fish as soon as possible. If you don’t need a photo then get that guy back into the water to recover.

Just because we are having a drought year doesn’t mean we can’t fish. The low flows and warmer temps do create a challenge but its all a part of the fishing experience. Because the flows are so low this year it makes the fish pretty spooky. Wearing natural toned clothes, moving around slowly, using lighter lines and studying the structures can help your success in the shallow waters. If you have any questions about where to go, how the temps are doing and what patterns to use, don’t hesitate to ask the Minturn Anglers crew. The employees at the shop are all very knowledgeable and spend a ton of time on the water.

Get out there and enjoy your summer. Happy Fishing!!

Chelsey Christy

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *