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What do the folks at the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) say about the amount of snow that fell and accumulated in the Rocky Mountains last winter? I’ve been asking them that for The Angling Report for many years because snowpack determines the amount of runoff that will flow into streams across the region. Knowing that allows them to make educated estimates with respect to summer river water volumes. An overabundance of mountain snow water runoff can cause flooding. Too little can lead to a rationing of river water use and even closure by fishing agencies of some rivers or sections of rivers to fishing. In between those extremes, there are all sorts of possible impacts on your plans to come out West this summer.

Overall, the picture is very mixed this year depending on where you plan to do your fishing, with north-bound anglers facing the brightest prospects and south-bound anglers the darkest. Below is a state-by-state look at NRCSpredicted conditions. You can dig deeper into the data by going to the NRCS website on your own. See the end of this article for the address. Just so you understand, the percentage figures I use in this report refer to the snowpack accumulation for this year as compared to the average percentages for the previous 30 years.

ARIZONA: Snowpack levels that supply water to the major basins in Arizona are well below normal. In mid-March, the statewide snowpack sat at only 19 percent of normal. Snow water equivalent levels were at a low of six percent of median in the Little Colorado River basin, to a high of 10 percent in the San Francisco-Upper Gila River basin. At that same time, the Salt and Verde River reservoir system sat at 57 percent of capacity, and the San Carlos Reservoir at just 12 percent. NRCS’s forecast calls for well below normal stream flows for Arizona’s rivers.

CALIFORNIA: This state saw record low snowfall in the Sierras this past winter. Snowpack measurements in the northern Sierras are at about 20 percent of the 30-year norm. The lack of melting snow will have a negative effect on most of the state’s stream flows, including the Truckee, Carson, and Walker Rivers, to name just a few. In addition, water storage in reservoirs behind dams is far below average capacity for this time of year.

COLORADO: Colorado’s statewide snowpack continues to track above normal, and decent to good fishing conditions are predicted for summer. Surveys conducted in April show statewide snowpack at 115 percent of median, which is 156 percent of the snowpack measured one year ago. Recent snows favored the northern mountain ranges, while storm systems in the southern mountains were limited. At 142 percent of median, the South Platte River basin boasts the highest basin-wide total in the state. All the northern basins report above-normal snowpack, thus the stream flow outlook is excellent. The Colorado, South Platte, Yampa, White, and North Platte Rivers and the headwater portions of the Gunnison and Arkansas should also have above-normal river flows. On the other hand, latest measurements show snowpack conditions across the southern mountains track below normal. The Upper Rio Grande basin was measured at 79 percent of median, the combined San Miguel, Dolores, Animas, and San Juan basins at 80 percent. Across southwestern Colorado, summer stream flow volumes are expected to be below normal. At the end of March, reservoir storage was holding steady at 89 percent of average. The northern basins are all reporting storage above or near normal for this time of year, while the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande all have below-normal storage.

IDAHO: Anglers will enjoy good fishing conditions this summer in Idaho, especially in the northern part of the state. Idaho’s northern-region snowpack is healthy, ranging from 130 percent upward of the 30-year average. Mountain snow that feeds the two major cutthroat rivers, the Lochsa and Selway, are sitting close to 150 percent of normal. The Clearwater and the Henry’s Fork River basins range from 120 to 135 percent. Snowpacks in the Owyhee, Little Wood, and Weiser basins are at 120 to 140 percent of norm. At the bottom of the ladder, further south in Idaho, the Big Lost, Big Wood, and Little Lost River basins range from 78 to 106 percent of medium. Reservoir water storage in Idaho should be in decent shape this coming summer, particularly behind dams on favorite fishing rivers. One factor that could be detrimental to this rosy outlook would be if the state experiences unusually hot weather in May and/or June, which would bring melting snow rushing off the mountains. Such an event would likely lead to flooding of some rivers.

MONTANA: There is no lack of snow in the mountains of the Treasure State. Statewide, current mountain snowpack is sitting well above 150 percent of the 30-year average. Montana’s prime trout rivers across the state are predicted to have ample flows throughout this coming summer. The only concern is that temperatures will turn unusually warm in May and June. Should that occur, a sudden excessive runoff of the mountain snowpack would lead to flooding in some river basins. Up to this point, near-freezing nighttime temperatures and cool days have kept the runoff under control. Prerunoff reservoir storage in Montana is also in good shape, averaging over 110 percent of average. Barring any serious late-spring flooding, very agreeable fishing conditions should exist beginning around the first of July.

NEVADA: This coming summer’s stream flows are forecast to be much below the 30-year norm in western Nevada, and below normal in eastern Nevada. Mountain snowpack that feeds Nevada’s rivers varies from 32-percent of normal in the Truckee River basin to 56 percent of normal (Carson River basin) in the western Nevada Sierras, and from 40 to 90 percent of normal in eastern Nevada’s mountains. That state’s reservoir storage of water is also low, ranging from well under 10 percent of capacity to just over 32 percent.

NEW MEXICO: As we enter the runoff period of mountain snowpack, the outlook for New Mexico’s rivers is anything but optimistic. There just was not that much snow that fell and accumulated over the state’s mountains this past winter. Forecasts for the state point to far below normal river flows. The Rio Grande flow projections include 38 percent of normal into Cochiti Lake and only 13 percent into Elephant Butte Lake. Other Rio Grande basin reservoir forecast inflows include 36 percent of normal at El Vado Lake and just 10 percent of normal at Jemez Canyon Reservoir. Inflow to Santa Rosa Lake is expected to be 25 percent of normal, while in the San Juan basin the Navajo Reservoir is expecting 79 percent of normal inflow. Surveys indicate that snowpack water content in the Rio Grande basin as of March was 41 percent of median. In the San Juan basin, snowpack water content was 84 percent of the median. The prospect for a normal spring snowmelt runoff across most of New Mexico is slim at best, aside from the San Juan River basin. Current storage capacity on the Rio Grande basin in New Mexico only averages 14 percent, and at this point one year ago, storage capacity was just 12 percent. In the San Juan basin, Navajo Reservoir storage capacity is at 57 percent, compared to 55 percent of capacity last year.

UTAH: While Northern Utah has fared decently in regard to needed mountain snow, the remainder of the state’s snowpack is below normal. Overall, the state’s snowpack is behind the 30-year average. In April, snowpack ranged from 120 percent of normal on the Bear, 100 percent on the Weber, and at 46 percent over southwest Utah. Much of snowpack in central Utah is in the 75 to 90 percent range. Reservoir storage in 46 of Utah’s reservoirs averages around 48 percent of capacity, compared to 56 percent last year. Summer stream flows in Utah are expected to be below average for the central and southern areas of the state, and near average for the northern portion. Most river flows are forecast to be in the 55 to 95 percent of normal range.

WYOMING: All indicators point to very good fishing conditions in Wyoming this summer. Statewide, this year’s snow water equivalent median (how Wyoming measures snowpack, compared to the 30-year average) sits around 138 percent with a low of 114 percent and a high of 159 percent. The highest reading was on the Powder River at 159 percent, the low on the Sweetwater at 114 percent. Readings on other popular fishing rivers include the Madison at 119 percent of average, the Big Horn 154 percent, Shoshone 152 percent, Laramie 140 percent, and the South Platte 143 percent. Yellowstone Park streams averaged around 183 percent, rivers in northern Wyoming 150 percent. Rivers flowing in the south section of the state were lower, but still were close to, or over, 100 percent of last year’s median.—Bill Cenis.

Postscript: For more detailed information on any state, visit the NRCS website at:

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