By Andy McKinley

They say that Colorado is at 521% of average snowpack as I write this.  Really though, what does average actually mean in 2019? Average snowpack, average peak flows, and even average peak flow date: forget about it all, we are setting new records.  We are so far above and beyond the average of any kind of water, snow, avalanche, or flow measurement this year, that planning a fishing trip based on average may result in severe disappointment.  It might even result in putting yourself in a dangerous situation, so expect to make a Plan B or even C when setting out to fly fish in Colorado for the next little while.
Photo: Colorado Climate Center

Yes, our snowpack and river flows are higher than average but that does not tell the full story. Our runoff typically begins to ramp up with low elevation snowmelt at the beginning of April, and this year was no exception.  However, coinciding with the low elevation snowmelt, we had relentless snowstorms at higher elevations that remained consistent through Memorial Day. Rivers were experiencing runoff while the high country was getting feet upon feet added to the snowpack.


These delayed storms and cold temps also delayed the peak of our runoff (the highest amount of water coming down the rivers for the year) for almost a month. With a very long and late running winter, peak flows hit the second week of June rather than mid-May. Even as I write this, our rivers are not far from peak flow CFS.  We have not even begun the ramp down.


So what does this mean for fishing this summer and fall?  Well like I said, it may pay to have a plan B or C. With everything raging for the next few weeks, you may want to have a tailwater up your sleeve or a lake in mind. With massive runoff, our reservoirs are filling quickly and the fishing has been pretty solid on flatwater. Bass, pike, carp, and mega trout are all being caught right now on lakes throughout the state.  Most tailwaters will be experiencing some form of flush with all this water, but even then, many will run clear. Most trout will be pushed closer to the banks and wading may not even be necessary during higher flush flows.


Through the rest of summer and into fall, all this snow means plenty of water to fish.  In the short term, fishing may be difficult for a few weeks. Into July, August, and September however, expect the higher flows to make for INCREDIBLE fishing.


We are looking at an extended float season which we have not seen in a very long while. Snowmelt into rivers makes for colder water temps, and a lot of bugs are temperature sensitive.  This could mean that some of our best hatches of stoneflies, drakes, and caddis will be pushed into July and even August.


As a final note, know before you go!  Know that there is still a lot of snow up high, and hiking into the backcountry may have to wait a while.  Know your wading and rowing ability and respect the river. Things can go bad quick, especially with high water.  Be safe and don’t be discouraged with the high water today, grab a map or call a local fly shop and try something new!

Words from Andy McKinley of the Duranglers Fly Shop based in South-Western Colorado. You can get in touch with Andy at

Photos courtesy of Nolan Dahlberg.

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