River Conditions in May
Spring is here, and what a short one it will be. Here in Southwest Colorado, it tends to go from cold and snow to 80-degree temps in about 3 seconds. So really it feels more like winter ended a few days ago and spring is over. As I write this, temps are already reaching 81 degrees and runoff is in full effect. Anticipate the bulk of runoff to last 2 to 3 weeks with peak flows within peak flows arriving within the first 2 weeks of May. This is all weather depending of course; freak snowstorms have been know to happen in May. As always, a quick peep at the USGS flows will help: http://www.dwr.state.co.us/SurfaceWater/data/division.aspx?div=7
With runoff taking up a large chunk of the month, you may think our rivers unfishable. Don’t be so discouraged my friend, you still may be able to fish the high water, and with easier success. The fish will get pushed to the edges of the river with the swifter currents in the center. All fish, even the big ones, shelter on the edge were they will expend less energy in the less turbulent water. Towards the end of May, the high country may be open to fishing as well, just make sure check the weather.
If your river of choice looks to be murky and off color; the San Juan, Williams, Los Pinos, Florida, Dolores, and Uncompahgre are all tailwaters. These rivers below their respective dams may not be affected by any discoloration. Again, make sure to check the flows or call into the shop. Spring releases will happen below the dams, although the water will be high but not unfishable. If that isn’t an option, you should seriously consider hitting a local lake or reservoir. This is prime time for pike! Bass fishing will be picking up and of course remember that big trout live in lakes…Call into the shop for a daily report and suggestion on where is fishing best.
Insects and Natural Food Sources
May begins to start the summer season and with summer comes the hatches! Stoneflies and Caddis will get the ball rolling on the Animas, Piedra, Los Pinos, and Gunnison. A big dark stonefly nymph fished along the river edge during high water will produce some solid strikes. Also, be o the lookout for BWOs and PMDs. If you are hitting the San Juan, the standard Juan bugs will be in order: midges, baetis, annelids, aquatic worms, eggs, and leeches. However, there will some exceptions. If the flows get bumped up, lots of things will be pushed out of the dam; namely scuds, worms, and leeches. Also, a yearly phenomenon happens on the San Juan with our first rains of summer known as the ant fall. Towards the end of May/beginning of June, thousands of large ants will get washed out of the cliffs above San Juan into the river…and the fish go nuts. This only happens for a few days so watch the weather for the first rains. A size 14 ant or black stimulator pattern will be the key.
Always pack streamers this time of year, dark and big for the high off color water. Also don’t forget that pike fishing will be getting better and better with every warm day. Dark pike or saltwater streamers in olive or black and big will be the go to starting at 5 inches up to 9 inches with larger being better.
Also, if you are headed to the Dolores River; hoppers will be in full effect towards the end of May with PMDs showing up around the same time.
Recommended Fly Patterns
Animas and other SW CO rivers: Dark stonefly nymphs sz. 10-14 such as a 20 Incher Stone, Prince Nymph, Black Wolly Bugger, Pats Rubberlegs. Salmonfly imitations such as Chubby Chernobyl, Rogue Foam Stone, Sofa Pillow, and Stimulators size 2-12. Green or black caddis larva and cased caddis nymphs, Sparkle pupa and Sparkle emerger sz. 12-18. Elk Hair Caddis, Olive X-Caddis, Parachute Caddis, Peacock Caddis all size 12-18. Streamers: anything that is big, meaty, and has lots of action in the water and this time of year darker is better. Animas River Special, Sculpzilla, Black or Olive Buggers, or Krystal Buggers. BWO hatches may still occur so make sure to have some BWO nymphs and dries as well: pheasant tail, WD-40, Barrs Emerger, Foam wing RS2 in sizes 18-22. If you are headed to the Dolores, make sure to pack some hoppers in size 8-12 such as Grillo’s Pool Toy, Turk’s Tarantula, and Dave’s Hopper.
San Juan River: Olive and tan scuds sizes 14-18. BWO’s Sz.18-22; Two Bit Hooker, Juju baetis, WD-40s, Pheasant Tail, RS-2s, CDC Comparaduns. Midges Sz.18-26; Scissorbill Special, Red Brassie, Big Mac, Griffith Gnats, and Zebra Midges. Brown, Olive, and White bunny leaches or buggers of the same color. Tan chamois Leeches size 16. Red annelids Sz. 20-22. San Juan Worms, Sz. 16-20 in tan, pink, or orange. Egg patterns, Sz. 16 in orange, pink, and cherise. Make sure to have a few size 14 ant patterns just in case such as a Black Stimulator or Amy’s Ant.