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Fly Fishermen Benefit From Low Stream Levels


Colorado's ever-worsening drought is acting as an early season boon to one of its iconic summer activities - fly fishing. Low river levels make fishing much easier, which is drawing fishermen out into rivers earlier and in greater numbers. Aspen Public Radio's Luke Runyon reports the drought is also good for business.


LUKE RUNYON, BYLINE: The story most people equate with fly-fishing, "A River Runs Through It," starts with a famous line. The author says in his family there's no clear distinction between fly fishing and religion.

CAMERON SCOTT: It completes a part of me that doesn't get completed in any other way.

RUNYON: Fly fisherman Cameron Scott holds that very same belief.

SCOTT: It makes me feel very human and it makes me feel very connected to the world that I live in.

RUNYON: Scott is thigh-high in the Fryingpan River, one of Colorado's best for fly fishing. He's casting the line every twenty seconds.

SCOTT: I see a lot of currents. I see a lot of seams. I see green water and shallow red water.

RUNYON: Shallow being the key word. Last year, this section of the river was raging, which kept fishermen away until later in the season.

SCOTT: Just kind of searching.

RUNYON: Would you have been out here...

SCOTT: Oh fishing this stretch of water? Heck no. Not in a million years.

RUNYON: But Scott says today's fishing is near perfect.

SCOTT: You know, people pay so much freaking money to take meditation courses and stuff like that. I'm like, man, just go fish. Go spend a lot of money fishing instead.


RUNYON: A few miles downstream, The Fryingpan Anglers, a fishing outfitter, is bustling with customers. They're walking out with extra spools of line and shiny new poles.

ART ROWELL: You can see we have a large selection of flies.

RUNYON: Shop manager Art Rowell says fishing this year has been almost skill-free. Drop a line in and catch a fish. It's because of this past winter's low snow pack and the subsequent low stream levels. And because the spring was so warm, the bugs the fish eat are hatching earlier, to the delight of Rowell's customers.

ROWELL: Everybody's coming back with smiles on their faces. One of our customers caught a twelve-pound rainbow last week. That's a big fish.

RUNYON: Rowell says word gets around quickly about which rivers are fishing well. So fishermen have been coming in droves since late spring. Rowell's shop has seen a 50 percent jump in guided trips from last year. Sales of flies, poles and line are also up.

ROWELL: Fishing's been red hot though. Doesn't hurt the fishing. The drought is actually good for the fishermen but bad for the fish.

RUNYON: But there's a sense among anglers that this party isn't going to last. Water in streams continues to dwindle. If the level dips too low the water temperature rises, which stresses the fish. That's when Colorado wildlife officials have been known to do something fishermen and the businesses that depend on fishing dread. Randy Hampton is the wildlife division's spokesman.

RANDY HAMPTON: We may have instances where we have to come in with a regulation and suspend fishing in some areas for a short period of time. We hope we don't get to that, but it's something that we're watching.


SCOTT: Hey, fish. Hey, fish.

RUNYON: Back in the Fryingpan River, the trout are showing interest in Cameron Scott's lures.

SCOTT: Oh, there he went. Did you see that?

RUNYON: A flash of brown dashes under water.

SCOTT: Yep, that's it. You got him.

RUNYON: Scott pulls out a foot-long brown trout, something he says he'll be doing a lot of this summer.

SCOTT: I think a lot of times we forget that all these systems are very, very cyclical. And there's times of high water, there's times of low water, and when you're out every day, you're just adjusting to whatever's happening on the river anyways.

RUNYON: Scott says that adjustment will just come a bit later this year.

For NPR News, I'm Luke Runyon in Basalt, Colorado.


MONTAGNE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

As KUNC’s reporter covering the Colorado River Basin, I dig into stories that show how water issues can both unite and divide communities throughout the Western U.S. I produce feature stories for KUNC and a network of public media stations in Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona, California and Nevada.