What is it about throwing big bugs nowadays? A few years ago, it seemed like people were scared to throw anything larger than a size 8 and now we're tossing 6 inch articulated streamers on a weekly basis. We're busting out 6's, 7's, and even 8 weights for crying out loud! It appears that the freestone freeze is just about up and the winter blues are almost behind us. In hopes of finding some big, bad streamer water, we stopped our normal programing of harassing fish in 6 inches of water below dams and headed towards the headwaters of the upper Colorado River.
The day began as an experimental journey to inspect thaw zones and was excited to find more than enough fishable water. This was big, blue, healthy water that begged for a large pat's rubber legs or sculpin to be aggressively drifted through. We were rewarded relatively soon after placing our bugs in a run right between two large shelves of ice.
The plan paid off. Mission freestone was turning out relatively successful as 10+ fish were turned in the first hour. Not half bad for a still half winterized river. Tailwater season was feeling like a memory of the past as temperatures reached nearly 70 degrees by noon. As the afternoon approached, we headed down stream to a wider and more open zone of river.
After sticking a few nice fish between in the long, mesmerizing, dark blue runs, I began to reflect on the current state of the Colorado. As one of the most endangered rivers in the world, it's often scary to contemplate that this amazing fishery might not be here in the distant future. The Colorado river starts in Rocky Mountain National Park where it then is collected in a series of dams; Shadow Mountain, Grand Lake, Lake Granby, and the Big Thompson Water Project. Approximately 60% of the water in the entire Upper Colorado River Basin is diverted through an energy intensive pump called a transcontinental diversion where it is then collected, treated, and dispersed among the Denver Metro area and Colorado's Front Range.
Sadly enough, the Colorado River stopped reaching the Pacific Ocean years ago as the delta has receded into a desert. Even worse, 60% of the water that is diverted to Colorado's Front Range is used on sprinkler systems which are often turned on during rainstorms. And worse than that, most of Denver's residents hardly know that the water is being collected from a dying and depleting resource.
As a fisherman and conservationist, it's heartbreaking to hear words like this nonetheless acknowledge their truth. It makes fishing a place like the Colorado River unique and special. For myself, it's a treat and privilege to fish one of the most endangered rivers in the world. I consider myself a steward of conservation and advocate of the Colorado River's declining health. All fisherman who've witnessed this river and all its glory should feel similar. It's not all that common to have such a prolific and productive freestone river in our backyard. It's special in the sense that it defies common tactics. It allows the typical angler to break out of his or her comfort zone and truly immerse yourself in its natural state. If your thing is tossing big streamers, stones, or big fluffy dry flies, this river will suite you perfectly.
The voice and involvement of the fly fishing community will act as one of the main conservation related tools for making sure pristine yet endangered fisheries are getting the attention needed to ensure long term survival.
Petitions can be signed and donations can be made to support the Upper Colorado's current state of distress. Check out the sites below for more information on the Upper Colorado River Basin and how you can get involved!
- PC: Matthew Delorme @mdelormephoto
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