One of the recurring questions I get from my readers is whether the water is too high in such-and-such a river or is there enough water to fish now in one of the creeks you wrote about. A call to a local fly shop may provide the answer, especially for big rivers like the Arkansas. However, they often don’t track smaller waters. Fortunately the State of Colorado Division of Water Resources maintains a very useful online site that tracks surface water levels on literally thousands of rivers, creeks, and lakes that can help answer those questions. Here’s a step-by-step primer to help you figure out whether that water you have an eye on is fishable. I will use La Garita Creek, a tributary of the Rio Grande in the San Luis Valley, as an example. Obviously it will help to have direct experience on a stream at various water levels throughout the year to be able to gauge whether a certain flow level is fishable. That means you must do more on-site piscatorial research!!
STEP #1: GOOGLE “COLORADO WATER STATIONS“
The first step is to find the Colorado Division of Water Resources surface water levels site. It’s easy: Just Google “Colorado Water Stations” and click on “Stations” at the top of the list.
STEP #2: SEARCH FOR DIVISION (aka WATERSHED) LA GARITA CREEK IS LOCATED IN
The next screen will display every water in Colorado in the data base. To narrow your query, tap “Search” at the top of the screen.
STEP #3: SELECT RIO GRANDE DIVISION
On the next screen press the search button near the middle of the screen and then select the Division in which the water is located. In this case it is Rio Grande River Division at the bottom of the screen. Hit “Done” when finished.
STEP #4: Scroll Down To La Garita Creek
A list of waters in the Division will be displayed on the next screen. The next step is to find the water that you want flow information on. In this case you can scroll down down to La Garita Creek near La Garita and press “View.” This will pull up relevant flow information on La Garita Creek. In some watersheds such as the South Platte there are over 500 listings so in that case you will need to specify how many waters you want listed to view.
STEP #5: VIEW WATER LEVELS ON SELECTED WATER FOR THE LAST 10 DAYS
The next screen will automatically display the water level on the selected water for the past 10 days, both current and yearly average. In this case you can see the flow dipped to about 10 cfs before a recent rain added to the flow.
STEP #6: SCROLL TO TOP OF SCREEN AND SELECT “DATA” BUTTON TO VIEW WATER LEVELS FOR LAST 30 DAYS
Comparing water levels over a longer 30-day period can be useful especially in a period of rain or drought.
STEP #7: SELECT DATA FROM LAST 365 DAYS
Again, scroll to top of screen and select “Data” then select “365 Days.” Seeing average and current water levels for the last year will allow you to gauge whether the water is above, at, or below normal water levels. For most small streams a water level above 50-60 likely means it is not fishable due to high water flows. Water levels below 5 cfs are usually not fishable on most creeks. Note that even at a fishable level a stream may be turbid and muddy.