Steamboat Springs Phil Eggleston squinted up at the Flat Tops Friday afternoon and tried to estimate whether the snowfields that glistened in the sun above 11,000 feet held enough moisture to fill his reservoir.
"I need about 7,000 acre feet," Eggleston said. "It looks like there's enough up there."
Eggleston manages Stagecoach Dam for the Upper Yampa Conservancy District. Most Routt County residents are more concerned with the water skiing above the dam and the excellent tailwater fishing below the dam than they are with calculating acre feet of water storage. But recreation can't be separated from snowpack.
Eggleston said Stagecoach Reservoir, the focus of Stagecoach State Park, is currently 9 feet below the full mark. But that means there is more water in the reservoir than usual for this time of year. Eggleston began anticipating a coming drought season last fall and tapered releases from the dam.
Then, this winter, he says he cut back significantly on the electricity he generated (Stagecoach has a small hydroelectric plant).
For trout fishermen, depending upon how they look at it, the coming week is either prime time or just a week ahead of prime time.
The road from the state park entrance is scheduled to open to vehicular traffic April 1.
For anglers who like a modicum of solitude with their fishing, now is the time to call in sick and make the 45-minute walk to the tailwaters where the Yampa River comes out of the dam.
Fishermen who are not ambulatory, or just plain aren't willing to make the effort to walk or bike to some of the best fishing in a 50-mile radius of Steamboat, just wait a week or two and you can drive on up to the dam.
Just remember, it's fly and lure fishing only, and all trout must be returned to the water immediately. Daily admission to the park has been increased to $5 this year, or you can purchase a season pass for $50.
Park rangers are asking that up until the time the road opens, visitors do not park immediately next to the gate barring access to the dam road. Instead, drive beyond the entry station and park there.
The road is almost entirely free of snow there are only a few really muddy spots.
The river was being lightly fished on Friday afternoon. Large trout were visible in the current and using Polaroid sunglasses, it was possible to see that they were indeed feeding; the telltale sign of a nymphing fish is the white flash when they open their mouth to snare their prey.
One seasoned fly fisherman who preferred to be known only as Jason landed a couple of colorful rainbows.
Taylor Barnard of Overland Park, Kan., and his buddies interrupted their ski vacation to try ice fishing and stream fishing all in one day. They were having a little trouble getting the hang of it, but Jason was dispensing free advice.
For advice on fly patterns that have proven effective at the Stagecoach tailwaters, see this week's fishing report.