Big water year spells good times for rafters and anglers

Spring runoff anticipated throughout valley 

As daytime temperatures in the valley climb into the sixties and overnight lows in the high-country creep ever closer to the thawing point, the area’s river-goers are preparing for what could be a runoff to remember.



Snow/water equivalent in Gunnison Basin is 125 percent of average. And depending on what you go to the river looking for, that could mean the beginning of peak season or a hiatus in the middle of it.
For Vito Covelli, outfitting manager for Three Rivers Resort, this year’s runoff will provide just the boost that people in the rafting industry are looking for.
“The level of thrill is so much higher when the water is big,” says Covelli. “Right now we’re in an ideal situation because [the Bureau of Reclamation] is letting out more water than normal but it’s not hurting anything. And the weather we’re having right now is perfect—it’s consistently warm but we’ve had a few cool days, so it doesn’t come too fast.”
But once big water starts to come, fast won’t be a problem for Covelli and the other whitewater guides with the resort, which operates trips on several sections of the Gunnison River as well as on the upper and lower Taylor.
“When the water is high, it’s just more of everything: more speed, bigger drops, more adrenaline and everybody likes that. It’s just the next level” of rafting, says Covelli who is getting ready for his 25th year working on the rivers.
With the high water, however, come a few reservations from some people, and not the kind that reserve a spot on the boat. The concern is that the speed and intensity of the runs work against the safety of the party on board. But this assumption is pretty far from reality, according to Covelli.
“The level of thrill is so much higher when the water is big, but the river is actually more dangerous when it is low because there are more rocks exposed that you can get hung up on and the river is just more technical, even though the flows aren’t as high,” he says.
The guides who work for Three Rivers Resort are required to complete a 10-day training session and, depending on where they will guide, take a swift-water rescue course to prepare them for emergencies on the river.
“We have probably six to 10 guides who have been with us for close to 10 years or more, and then we have between 12 and 20 guides who are repeat guides, meaning they’ve guided the rivers for at least one year,” says Covelli.
“We’re very safety conscious. We’re very lucky that the more water we get the easier it gets and the more of an adrenaline rush it is and the more it turns people on. We’re definitely more aware of it and we wish people would understand that. This is probably going to be the best year in the last 10 years to raft any section,” Covelli says.
But if you’re headed to the river in search of trout, the outlook might not be quite so good as the river levels rise. More water makes the rivers difficult to wade in places and offers the fish more water to hide in.
Rod Cesario, owner of Dragonfly Anglers in Crested Butte says, “High runoff is going to limit our choices early. Stuff that we’re used to having available, like floating the Gunnison River productively, is going to end, but fishing on the Taylor River will still be fishable, depending how much water they release from the reservoir.”  
Although the runoff might pose a danger to any angler trying to wade in deep, fast running waters, it is just part of the natural cycle for the fish. Cesario says it’s a time of feast, as the high water brings food from places on the bank that it didn’t reach a few weeks earlier.
“Runoff is also a major cleansing of the river—the sediment that builds up in the river is washed out and what is left is perfect summer fishing,” he says. “It’s always been really good when the river is clearing. It’s going to be really good fishing by the Fourth of July, I would bet.”
But until then, the fishing doesn’t have to end. Depending on how much space is needed to make room for the runoff in Taylor Reservoir, moderate flows there might offer just the kind of water you need to fish.
“Taylor is an amazing resource that we have because we have a great river to fish that is dam-controlled and it’s not going to have the sediment to deal with or the runoff,” says Cesario.

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