Steamboat fly-fishing starts to pick up |

Steamboat fly-fishing starts to pick up

Craig Gillahan whips a fly through the air during a hatch on the Yampa River on Thursday morning. The Pennsylvania fisherman said the waters had been kind, as he'd already reeled in three trout. The river hasn't
been as nice to commerical guiding operations in Steamboat Springs because a high runoff season delayed many river fishing trips in July.

Joel Reichenberger

Linda Stein, from Dallas, holds up her catch during a July fishing trip with Steamboat Flyfisher. The high water — clearly seen lapping up on the shore behind her — made fishing more complicated this summer, but not impossible.Joel Reichenberger

— It all depends on whom you ask.

Steamboat's belated — and if the increasingly brisk nights are any indication, brief — summer wrecked havoc on local commercial river tubing operations and changed everything for river rafters. It opened up new worlds for kayakers and locked down popular mid-summer trails from hikers.

It had an effect on the fishing industry as well, and just what that means, good or bad, depends on who you ask.

Take Bruce Carta, an avid local fly-fisher and the vice president of Steamboat's Yampa Valley Fly Fishers club, which recently became an official chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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Carta on Thursday soaked up a sunny morning in his favorite way: knee-deep in the Yampa River, fly rod in hand.

The river was too high to fish through all of June and even most of July, which usually is prime time for in-town summer fishing. So here we are in August, and the fishing is finally picking up.

"If you live here and want to go fishing," Carta said, his face spreading into a wide smile, "it's really good right now."

The sunny side of a frustrating local season is not so bright for local commercial operations, however. Everyone in town insisted the river is ready and it's time to fish. There just aren't as many tourists hanging around town to do it.

Season scrambled

It wasn't that guiding fishing trips in June and July was impossible, outfitters insist.

"We were on ponds and lakes and some ranches and that was fishing OK," Steamboat Flyfisher guide Jonah Drescher said.

Michael Boatwright with Straightline Sports reported similar results, pointing out that the river seemed even less lucrative for beginners and elderly clients.

"It took a better cast, a better fisherman," Boatwright said. "You had a shorter drift because you couldn't get out in the water."

Those complications left his shop at times having to say "no" to larger groups as it was uncomfortable sending even two new anglers out into high-water situations with just one guide.

They weren't alone in turning down business.

"The Fourth of July is always the busiest week of the year for us," Steamboat Flyfisher co-owner Steve Henderson said. "People were calling and wanting to go on fishing trips. It was fairly strong, but we had to turn people away.

"It's like if someone came in September and wanted to go skiing. Maybe you could find one spot up in the Zirkels, but your options would be really limited."

Sunny side up

Explaining the difficulties of July, Henderson is quick to go digital, turning to the computer and the online river flow report from the water measuring site at the Fifth Street Bridge, which just happens to be right outside his shop's front door.

His words come off like those from any seasoned guide: funny, well worn and ringing of common sense.

"These fish, they aren't going to drown," he said. "As a species, I suspect they know how to handle water. I bet they've seen a flood or two."

His message? The season may have been rough, but so it goes when dealing with a free-flowing river.

He and his staff have been telling anyone who calls that for any tourists still in town or any locals looking for a guide, the timing has never been better. August can at times give way to very low river flows, with excessive heat baking the fish and closing down access.

Fishing businesses reported frustration across the board. Trips have been down, as have walk-in retail customers.

But no one's been oblivious to the bright side.

"The fishing has been good," Boatwright proclaimed. "Usually in July and August the big fish have been fished so much they're very finicky, but this year, no one was able to get to them and we've caught a lot more big fish."

Even in a summer that flowed right by Steamboat's major fishing operators, no one can complain about big fish.

"You never get discouraged with water in Colorado," Drescher said. "In the long run, it's always better. … Water like this is always such a healthy event for us."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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