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Anglers who enjoy fishing the Rocky Mountain West know that the past two years have been characterized by record winter snows and unusually wet springs. Furthermore, ice flows have prevented early spring fishing on some rivers, and unusually high waters and long runoff periods lasting well into July have all caused anglers to shift their focus from early to late summer.

The question is, has fishing in the West changed for good? The short answer is no. I believe the past two years are simply part of a natural cycle that alternates from wet years to dry years, and back to wet. In fact, the 10 years prior to 1995 were drought years in the West. By mid-summer in those years, farmers were lamenting the lack of moisture available for irrigation. Special-use regulations were put in place in forests because of the fire danger. And fishermen were being told how to fish so as not to further stress trout that were already living under duress due to low water.

During those 10 years, it was usually safe to plan a stream fishing trip to one of the Rocky Mountain states anytime between the first of June on through the summer. Even as early as April and May, good fishing was available on many rivers.

The problem with all this is, a great number of new fly fishermen entered the market during those drought years and formed fairly rigid ideas on how and when to fish the West. Now, for the second year, they are facing what they think is a bad season. The disappointment is so widespread that some observers of the fly fishing scene are blaming a mini-recession in the fly fishing economy on discouraged Western anglers.

The important thing to remember here is, whirling disease aside, the West is still producing about the same amount of great fishing as ever. It’s simply been starting a bit later, peaking a bit later and lasting a bit longer. The "bad" fishing anglers have been talking about is simply "badly timed" fishing.

The drop-dead certain way to find good fishing in the West is to be flexible. That means waiting as late as possible in the season to make concrete plans and then getting up-to-date information on the specific waterways you plan to fish. Our Hotline Telephone Numbers are indispensable in this latter regard.

Above all, Western fishing fans have simply got to accept that it is virtually impossible to know months in advance just when good fishing will be on tap in a given river. Here at The Angling Report, we are certainly going to be more careful ourselves in trying to call the shots very far in advance based on factors such as snowpack. Take the evolving situation this year. A month or so ago, it appeared that late runoff was going to be the norm again this year throughout the region. Now, however, it appears that the snowpack in many Western states has melted much earlier and faster than usual this year, and many streams may actually have lower flows than normal this month. Furthermore, even though many Western mountain ranges received exceptionally large amounts of snow this past winter and early spring, the catastrophic flooding we expected on many rivers simply did not occur, although the Yellowstone River in Montana was one of a few exceptions. The reasons why are complex, but it helped that soils were not frozen and absorbed much of the moisture. There were also some cold snaps that slowed the snow melt, as did below-average May rain through the early melt period. Overall, as this is written, there is a great deal of optimism as to fishing prospects in the West for this month and on into autumn. – William M. Cenis

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