As most of you know, the Colorado River is experiencing unusually high water temperatures for this time of year. There's no question this is an early start to our warm water season and with that brings some ethical fishing practices we should all be aware of. Let's start off by explaining why we are seeing this trend, specifically on the Colorado River. Normally, we see much higher flows coming from feeder creeks and tailwaters flowing into the Colorado. These cold-water creeks and bottom release tailwaters help keep larger rivers cool throughout summer months. Because runoff has been minimal this year, our reservoirs are taking longer than usual to fill. This has kept tailwater flows at a minimum causing a shortage of water in our larger freestones rivers. Besides flows, recent warm weather is not helping. The low and clear water is allowing an unhealthy amount of sunlight to heat the riverbed, basically acting as a hotplate for the Colorado River. Let's go over some things you can do to safely fish warm water or avoid it all together.
FINDING COLD WATER
Go upstream - One way to find cold water is to head upstream. Typically, lower sections of river will have higher water temperatures. As the river flows downstream to warmer environments, the water has longer to heat up. If you pick a spot closer to the headwaters of a river you will find cooler water since it is normally at a higher elevation, shaded by trees, and receives more snowmelt.
Alpine lakes - These high elevation lakes stay cool throughout the summer months because of cold overnight temperatures. Chasing cutthroat trout and brook trout through the high alpine can be a blast.
Tailwaters - Since tailwaters have bottom releases, the sections of river below the dam will maintain cold temperatures throughout the year.
Reservoirs - Although you might find surface water to be warm on some of our reservoirs, fish will seek out deeper water where cold water is present. Fishing drop offs from the bank or getting out on a boat is a great way to spend a day. Fish will typically move deeper as the summer progresses.
Creeks - Colorado has more small creeks than you can count. Exploring google earth is a very entertaining way to find these hidden gems. Plus, it’s unlikely you’ll see many people if you don’t mind putting some miles on your car or on your feet.
TIMING YOUR DAY - Get out early! Water temperatures often reach dangerous levels around 2pm. If you get out on the Colorado river at 6am you will still get a full day’s worth of fishing in.
THERMOMETERS - Be sure to take water temps throughout the day. The warmer the water, the less dissolved oxygen is present, making it harder for the fish to breath. The best way to take a water temperature is to make sure you are at least 6 inches below the surface but not directly on the bottom. Hold the thermometer in the water for at least 60 seconds to get the most accurate reading. Temperatures can vary depending on what structure you are measuring in. Slow moving pools will read higher than a fast riffle run. Based on where you are targeting fish, measure accordingly.
HANDLING FISH - Beef up your tippet and leader to avoid fighting fish for too long. This may result in less fish caught, but it will greatly improve a trout’s chance of survival after release.
Keep em' wet! Try skipping the ol' grip and grin. If you do decide to take a picture, avoid holding them out of the water. You don't always have to be present in the picture! A fish resting in your net placed in fast and oxygenated water can make for a cool shot.
Thanks for reading, so long!
- Harlan Kimball