Flooding in Colorado
For those of you who may not have heard, we had some serious flooding here in Colorado last week. Across the state, the floods killed at least eight people and damaged or destroyed as many as 2,000 homes. It also washed out hundreds of miles of roads and left many small mountain towns completely cut off. The floods caused damage across nearly 2,000 square miles; it was unprecedented, especially given the time of the year. I was up in the mountains hunting elk, and I didn’t know what had taken place, and I still don’t know all of the details, but it is going to take years for some areas to recover.
What is ironic to me is that Chatfield Reservoir (where I fish, canoe, and kayak frequently, less than a mile from my home) has been low all summer to allow water to flow down the South Platte River to the farmlands out east, and those farmlands, small towns, and country roads were some of the hardest hit areas. Last Friday I went to Chatfield Reservoir, and the water level was at least 20 feet higher than the last time I was there two weeks ago, the flow to the plains had been shut off.
My state is in recovery mode now, and while I don’t intend at all to make light of the personal tragedies and loss caused by the flooding, I am not a news reporter, I am an outdoor writer, so I want to discuss that aspect of the flooding. First I want to commend the Colorado Parks & Wildlife for their immediate action to assess the damage to fisheries and wildlife habitat. They are not only assessing the damage to the environments, they immediately offered hunters with special permits to hunt areas affected by the flooding the ability to exchange their tags for one in another area. A friend of mine, Rob, was looking forward to archery deer hunting in October in an area out on the plains that was washed out by the floods, and he came to me for advice on an alternate area to hunt since he will be given the opportunity to exchange his hunting permit. I think that the CP&W’s quick response to this situation exhibits their dedication to the sportsmen and women of our fine state.
Fall is one of the best times to fish here in Colorado, and of course the flooding is going to have an impact in several areas, in different ways. As I mentioned about Chatfield Reservoir, it was filled with additional water, but clear water by now, and it has expanded the lake into areas that two weeks ago were sandy shores filled with sprouting cotton woods and other vegetation. Now those areas are prime fishing habitat for bass, trout, walleye, and catfish wanting to fatten up for the winter. The fishing there is incredible right now.
On the other hand, some smaller reservoirs into which flood waters spilled into, the water is still murky, and fishing can be tough. As a general rule, in murky or stained water you want to fish with dark colors in order to create contrast against the water color, and use lures that make noise, push water, or otherwise create some kind of serious action to draw attention. Some people think that fishing brightly colored lures in murky water makes the lure stand out. But in actuality the light disbursement is restricted in dark-colored water, meaning that the fish won’t even see the color, they will see the profile of the lure, just as when fishing in clear water on a moon-lit night.
As for fly fishermen, fishing in murky water is always difficult, and streamers and San Juan worms tend to work best. But the streams in the mountains tend to clear out quickly, even after a major flood like we had here. The exception to that is streams that flow out of areas where a forest fire has recently occurred (by recently I mean within the past year or two), and unfortunately we have had a lot of fires in Colorado in recent years. An afternoon downpour in a burn scar area can muddy streams for miles in a short amount of time, and it may not clear up for days. The same concept applies to all mountainous areas, not just Colorado. If you plan on a fly fishing outing, be sure to check these conditions before you go.
As far as hunting goes, the devastation of this flood could be significant to populations of upland birds, such as pheasant, quail, and chukar. These birds that love the cover of the riparian areas of the South Platte River will find their hiding areas washed away. On the other hand, the flood will create new hunting opportunities for water fowl for the season that is not far away; there will be new pools and puddles still standing in fields where there were none last season. The flood will also have created new river and creek channels which will remain for at least a few more months, if not for years until the next flood.
For big game, the result of the flood’s impact is mainly on human access to hunting areas. The deer on the eastern plains of Colorado have plenty of habitable areas they can migrate to safely. The main impact to hunters is what I mentioned earlier about my friend Rob; he had a sweet spot scouted out in a corn field, and he would likely have taken a deer there next month, but that opportunity is lost now. As a result of the flooding, many hunters will have to rethink their strategies now, but the animals should be fine.
That’s my brief summary of what the flood means to us outdoors people, but I could write a novel about so much more of this tragedy. In harsh terms; it is Mother Nature’s force, and it is there for a reason. We as humans are still trying to understand what those reasons are, and deal with the results.