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The amount of snow that falls in the Rocky Mountains has an important effect on the coming angling season in that part of the world. Principally, it determines when and how strong the runoff will be. At this point, it’s too early to tell for sure what’s going to happen across the region, of course, but the recent headlines about lack of snow for the Winter Olympics piqued our interest and made us wonder how the prospects looked at this point. As we have in previous years, we turned to our western snow guru, Bill Cenis, for a preliminary report. He writes:
“This year’s early mountain snowpack measurements taken by the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) have trout fishery biologists concerned about the lack of moisture in the northern Rocky Mountain states of Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. In states located further south, measurements were also below 30-year norms but not as dramatically low as in those three northern states.
“Mountain winter snowfall plays a major role in determining how healthy river flows will be the following summer. Snowpack runoff, which normally peaks in late May or early June, supplies rivers and reservoirs with their summer water supply. Adequate runoff translates to healthy stream flows, providing a favorable habitat for trout. An over-abundance or too little runoff can be detrimental to a trout’s living conditions – and to the sport of traveling anglers.
“When stream flows are low, it is best to fish early in the summer. When flows are normal, good fishing conditions last from spring into fall. A heavy runoff can delay ideal fishing conditions until mid-July, but good conditions can then last late into autumn.
“Here’s a brief, condensed look at the NRCS snowpack measurements taken in mid-February, using comparisons to 30-year snowpack averages: Snowpack water content measurements in the mountains feeding streams in Idaho, Montana and Wyoming were the lowest. Montana and Idaho mountain water content as a statewide average was at 74 percent of the 30-year norm. Water content on the mountains which will supply California and Nevada rivers was measured at 91 percent. New Mexico at 89 percent and Colorado and Utah at 87 percent are considered to be in decent shape compared to past few years.
“It is obvious from these numbers that additional moisture is needed in the Rockies. It may fall over the next few months – or it may not. I will check in with a more detailed report in the May issue. In the meantime, you can follow the NRCS daily measurements yourself on the web at www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/reports/SelectUpdateReport.html.”