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A Look at Current Conditions in Colorado…The Good, Bad, and Ugly

There’s a fine line between too much snow and not enough. After two years of severe drought…I can honestly say I’m okay with above average snowpack years! The high water season can be challenging for many anglers, especially when river levels are above their normal historic levels, but low water or drought has it fair share of challenges as well. For the first time in my 30-year guiding career, releases below Cheesman Reservoir have been 42 cfs most of the fall, winter, and spring months in an effort to fill the 80,000 acre foot stillwater impoundment. The good news is that the snowpack in the South Platte corridor is in decent shape, but the reservoirs are low from last years hot summer and insufficient rainfall. My guess is that most of the Denver Water Reservoirs will fill this year, especially if we continue to get a lot of rain.

Colorado is experiencing an ugly drought that has many of its fabled tailraces running near minimum flows.  

The rest of the state is not so lucky as many watersheds are experiencing a horrible drought. Here is some info that will shed some light on how serious this is.

Snowpack as of May 22, 2021

Yampa and White Rivers 55% of normal
North Platte River 66% of normal
Colorado river 78% of normal
Gunnison River 49% of normal
San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan Rivers 31% of normal
Upper Rio Grande drainage 43%
Arkansas River 72%
South Platte River 121% of normal

Denver Water’s Reservoir Storage

Dillon Reservoir 83% full
Williams Fork Reservoir 69% full
Cheesman Reservoir 77% full
Eleven Mile Reservoir 99% full
Strontia Springs Reservoir 91% full

Anglers willing to work hard are finding a few cooperative trout in places like Deckers.  Above average rainfall has charged the feeder creeks which is good news for South Platte enthusiasts. 

A few other comments on reservoir levels and freestone streams

Spinney Reservoir is 23 feet low and Blue Mesa Reservoir is extremely low as well. That bad news for the southern part of the Centennial State is that the snowpacks are scary low. The freestone streams are gonna have a short and sweet run-off and flows are gonna be super low most of the year. My guess is that we’ll see “voluntary no fish” mandates in place by mid-summer on the Colorado, Yampa, Gunnison, Animas, and Rio Grande. Time will only tell, but hopefully I’m wrong and we’ll have a heck of a monsoon season to recharge the feeder creeks and raise river levels. We’ll keep you posted as conditions change.

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Pat Dorsey Fly Fishing