Because of this winter's low snowpack and the unseasonably hot and dry weather this summer, Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado are experiencing extreme drought conditions.
This has resulted in unusually low flows in local streams which, combined with hotter temperatures, can have serious impacts on fish, especially cold-water species like trout. The dissolved oxygen content within a stream is directly impacted by flow and temperatures (warmer temps and lower flows equal lower oxygen content), resulting in less holding capacity for fish and aquatic insects. These tougher conditions can affect all aspects of a trout's life including recovery after being hooked and then released. Local guides and fishermen are reporting fish fatalities throughout local streams in the afternoons.
Once water temperatures reach 67 degrees and higher it is too warm to fish and fish will not survive after being caught and released in these conditions. In the past few weeks, water temperatures above 70 degrees have been recorded along the main stem of the Rio Grande.
Due to the present conditions, it's recommended that anglers fish earlier in the mornings and avoid fishing past noon. Below are five tips from Trout Unlimited for fishing in the present existing stream conditions.
1. Respect the Fishery - When conditions become too extreme for fish, consider putting the rods away or fishing elsewhere. This could be a good time to explore other rivers in different parts of the state or region. Fishermen are encouraged to try rivers throughout the area that are in better shape and consistently demonstrate higher cubic flows per second including the Río Grande, San Juan River below Navajo Lake in New Mexico or the Arkansas River in Colorado.
2. Keep the fight short - Land and release the fish as quickly as possible so the fish don't expend too much energy. Use heavier tippet and handle the fish as little as possible. Make sure they are revived enough to swim away before releasing them. Using barbless hooks or flattening the barbs on hooks will also reduce stress to the fish significantly. Consider carrying a small pocket thermometer if unsure about water temperature. These handy tools are inexpensive and available at any local fly shop.
3. Fish early - Fish earlier in the morning when the ambient air temperatures are lower. Fishing the cooler times will reduce stress on the fish and the fishing can be better too.
4. Fish higher up - Consider fishing higher up in mountains in some of the tributaries and alpine lakes. This will reduce stress on lower level streams while still offering a great outing. One might even discover a new place with great fishing
5. Have patience - Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado are experiencing a tough water year, but many of the fish can adapt and survive these conditions if we do our part and follow these few guidelines. Plus, cooler daytime temperatures may coincide with coming monsoonal moisture. If there are questions about when and where to fish, please call or visit one of the many local fly shops.