Rains and the High Country – Late July/Early August Fishing Report

24 July 2018
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24 July 2018, Comments: 0

Rains and the High Country – Late July/Early August Fishing Report

We have seen an interesting summer this year in Durango.  First, it was high temps and low water, then the 416 Fire hit, then the smoke, and then the ash flow into the Animas.  All these things make for (once again) a skewed perception of the fishing in our area.  So here is the skinny:

The 416 Fire has been completely put out by our rains over the past few weeks.  It’s donezo.  No fire, no smoke, and lots of moisture.  This increased moisture on the fire in the Hermosa Creek drainage has also brought mudslides and ash flow into Hermosa and the Animas drainages.  It was bound to happen at some point with a forest fire, but for us, it happened right away.  We have also seen increased temps in town which has brought about higher than normal water temps that are assisted by the dirt and ash in the system.  All this makes for an interesting situation for all the fish in the Animas and lower Hermosa drainages.

So the bad of it is that with these increased temps and dirty waters, some fish kill on the Animas is inevitable.  We have seen a lot of dead bottom feeders such as suckers, carp, and sculpins.  What we have not observed is a massive kill of trout.  There has been some attrition, and our suspicion is that it is due to the higher water temps (we have seen days with above 70-degree water temps), but a catastrophic trout apocalypse does not seem to be the situation.  As further hard evidence comes from Parks and Wildlife, we will be able to provide further info.

We’re not looking at it as all doom and gloom.  We believe fisheries are much more resilient than we generally give them credit for.

So all that to say, please avoid fishing the Animas for right now.  On the other side of the coin, the recent rains have brought about some incredible fly fishing all over the Four Corners region.  The San Juan, upper Dolores, Pine, Piedra, Rio Grande, and a host of high country creeks and lakes are all fishing incredible.  The rains have brought about an immense amount of lush foliage and wildflowers in the high country.  Right now is the perfect time to get into the backcountry in pursuit of high country cutthroat.  The summer fly fishing opportunities in our area are so numerous, that it would be impossible to fish it all in a lifetime.  Read on below for a more in-depth report for our local waters

You can also check out our frequently updated river reports page for the most up to date information.

River Reports:

San Juan River Quality Waters – The Quality Waters are flowing steadily at 670 cfs right now, which is a good summer flow for fish to spread out.  There are lots of good holes and runs where fish are eating hard on midges and annelids.  The secret news for the San Juan is Terrestrials.  While worm and midge patterns will catch a pile of fish, there is still nothing like seeing a 20″ trout crush an ant or hopper pattern.  We have been fishing the Duranglers Peacock Caddis and Black Stimulators with great success on the Juan.

Animas – Once again, we are asking everyone to avoid fishing the Animas right now.  The water is dirty and the temps are high.  Please give these fish a fighting chance and head to one of the other options listed here.

Creeks and the High Country – This is the time to head into the high country.  With the recent rains, our mountain creeks have received a much-needed influx of water and the cutthroat and brook trout are feeding strong.  For the adventurous looking for a multi-day trek into the backcountry, our local Weminuche Wilderness offers an unbelievable amount of water to explore where you may not see another soul for multiple days.  High country lakes are notorious for holding trout that are measured in pounds rather than inches, and they are usually willing to eat almost anything with a good presentation.  Grab a map, pack a bag, and hit the trail; now is the time to get high.

However, if you are someone who does not have the time for a multi-day trip, our area has a plethora of day trips into high country gems including Cascade Creek, Lime Creek, Upper Hermosa Creek (lower is not fishing well due to mudslides), the upper Animas, South Fork of Mineral Creek, Vallecito Creek, La Plata River, and about 40 dozen more that are too numerous to list.

Local Lakes – High country, low country…all country; lakes are fishing.  High country lakes are fishing very well for trout, especially those bigger boys everyone is always looking for.  Low country stillwater such as Vallecito, Navajo, McPhee, Totten, and Echo are fishing fantastic for largemouth and smallmouth bass as well as carp…all on topwater.  Look for bass to crush a popper while carp will eat terrestrial patterns along with traditional carp flies.  If you have never experienced bass or carp on the fly, now is the time!  Make sure you check out our stillwater guide trip options.

San Juan River In Colorado – The San Juan through Pagosa can fish well early in the morning before temps rise…and the rubber hatch pops!  When the tubers descend upon Pagosa, head to the backcountry.  The high country drainages and creeks of the upper San Juan are calling you so strap on your hiking boots and get after it!  Typical attractor dries will be your go-to, but the lakes you come across may require a stealthy approach with smaller parachute dries and leeches.

Rio Grande – The height of the summer float season has passed…but the great wade fishing is still here!  Seriously, the streamer fishing is pretty nuts with tons of fish looking to chase down and kill any baitfish pattern thrown at them.  Caddis and PMD hatches have also been going strong in the mornings and evenings. Terrestrials such as hoppers and ant are also finding their way into trout mouths.

Piedra – Flowing low and clear, the Piedra has been fishing really good in the morning with dries.  Moth patterns, caddis, and small terrestrials have been the go-to for us before the summer sun gets high in the sky.  A dry dropper with a caddis or small stonefly nymph is a good option.  The “get up really early and hike in” program is your best bet for finding the most in the more untouched sections of the Piedra.

Upper Dolores – Above the Bear Creek drainage, the Dolores is fishing all sorts of good.  Depending on rains, below Bear Creek (where the Burro Fire hit hardest), the river can be running dirty.  A dry dropper rig of an Amy’s Ant and Copper John is a sure rig for a day of fun on the upper Dolores and it’s tributaries.

Los Pinos – Below Vallecito:  Flowing at 550 below the dam, the private stretches of the Pine are pretty prime right now.  Prince/RS-2 nymph rigs would be our choice.  If you don’t have access, give us a call and book a private water guide trip on the Pine.  It is truly a special river.

Above Vallecito:  Into the Weminuche Wilderness, the Pine takes on a unique characteristic of a high country creek at times…while other times being tough to figure out.  A dry dropper prospecting rig with a Chubby Chernoyble and your favorite bead head dropper (such as a Dirty Bird) would be a good choice.  Sections may feel devoid of fish, but keep at it.  The size of fish in this high country gem will suprise you.

Andy McKinley
Andy manages Duranglers Flies and Supplies online store and web content. When he is not plugging away in the basement of Duranglers, he can be found in the shop talking weird flies, throwing spey casts for few fish, eating pizza, drinking coffee, painting, and raising a family in Southwest Colorado.

His fly fishing writings have been published on blogs such as the Daily Drake and Simms Wading Room.

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