The window is closing quickly for anglers on high-country rivers like the Eagle, shown here below the Eagle River Preserve in Edwards. A rapid rise in
The window is closing quickly for anglers on high-country rivers like the Eagle, shown here below the Eagle River Preserve in Edwards. A rapid rise in temperatures as caused a spike in flows that has muddied the water. (Scott Willoughby, The Denver Post)

AVON — Whether you rely on the National Weather Service, tea leaves or Chinese philosophy when it comes to coping with Colorado's spring runoff, one thing is certain this week: It's on.

After winter's late run put spring on ice into May, temperatures in the high country have suddenly spiked, triggering a rise in river levels as a massive meltdown gets underway. The Eagle River below Beaver Creek Resort, for example, rose roughly 1,000 cubic feet per second since the weekend. Below the Eagle's Confluence with the Colorado, the increase in water flow was more than 1,500 cfs. Similar spikes can be seen on the Yampa, White, Roaring Fork and other freestone rivers across the state.

As for how long it may last, that's where those tea leaves and tarot cards can come in handy.

"That's always the biggest guess," said Matt Sprecher, owner of Minturn Anglers on the bank of the upper Eagle River. "I think it will surprise people with how long it comes down this year. I'm guessing we have a month of heavy runoff before everybody is really comfortable with fishing and is having some luck. Even as a wade fisherman, it's really strong current and your flies are just buzzing by. I'm thinking mid-June, which was pretty common in the past."

Downstream at John Packer's Fly Fishing Outfitters shop in Avon, the prediction is a little sooner.

"I use the old local indicator of the snow in Game Creek Bowl (on Vail Mountain) or the high bowl in the Gore Range. Once that snow goes, good fishing levels are usually a couple days out," Packer said. "There's still a lot up high right now, but just based on the fact that the ground is so dry you have to think a good chunk of it will go straight into the ground. If it's really going in earnest now, it will be maybe three weeks, then drop. I think it could be a quicker runoff."

Three weeks, four weeks, maybe more, maybe less. Such predictions are minor consolation to eager anglers ready to wet a line and take advantage of kind mountain weather. Fortunately, there are options.

"The upper Colorado below Pumphouse is still fishing well. Caddis are coming off and they're holding back the water from the Williams Fork and the Blue below Green Mountain Reservoir," Packer said. "It will be really good if it gets over 1,000 cfs to get the salmonflies going."

"The salmonflies should be coming up in a week or so on the Colorado, we hope," Sprecher said. "But it's almost like elk hunting, really. You're not going to get an elk every year and you're not going to catch the salmonfly hatch on the Colorado every year either. You just have to keep trying and hope the conditions are right."

Both outfitters also make use of mountain lakes for fishing this time of year, along with reliable tailwaters such as the Blue River in Silverthorne, Frying Pan River in Basalt and Homestake Creek above Red Cliff. A quick check of U.S. Geological Survey gauges along the South Platte River indicates that water is being held back in the reservoirs from Spinney Mountain on down to Cheesman, and the reservoirs themselves offer ample opportunity for fish.

Although the upper Arkansas River is rising steadily, the promised recreational rafting releases of 700-plus cfs have yet to arrive for the summer and the river has been fishing well. As the snowmelt pushes into late May, however, members of the Arkansas River Outfitter Association say they expect runoff to crank up soon and linger a little longer.

"A key factor that plays out in May just about every year is the changing of the sun angle on the high elevation snowfields," said Bob Hamel, owner of Arkansas River Tours. "This brings down whatever snow is there, no matter the amount of snow that is present. Of course other factors contribute like wind, dust in the snowpack, etc. Front Range weather is not always indicative of what is occurring up high. That is why we are keenly observant of the high elevation and monitor headwater Snotel sites."

Once the high water hits in earnest, anglers would do well to employ the yin-and-yang philosophy and remember that these seemingly contrary forces are actually interconnected and complementary. Whenever one quality reaches its peak, it naturally begins to transform into the opposite. And that's a good thing.

"After the low water last year, we really need the runoff. So it's going to be good," Packer said. "We need a good flush. It's going to clean out the river a little bit."