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Trouts Journal

Trouts Classics // Back To Basics: Know The Flow

Ivan Orsic / Aug 9, 2021

There is a lot to learn when you enter the world of fly fishing. Not to mention, there are a good handful of terms one should become familiar with. The one we will be talking about today is Cubic Feet Per Second, otherwise known as CFS. In sifting through the archives we found an older story that articulated the concept very well while providing valuable and relevant applications. This story is originally by former Trouts Marketing and Outfitting Manager, Kyle Wilkinson. This story dates back to 2015 however, all of the insight still rings true today. Without further ado, let us get into this week's Trouts Classic.


When starting out fly-fishing there is one fact that is impossible to get around or take a short-cut on, and that is the simple reality there is a lot to learn. In fact, talk to an accomplished fly angler and ask them what they love about fly fishing. You're likely to hear as part of their answer that "you're never done learning". I personally couldn't agree more and now- after twenty years of having a fly-rod in hand whenever possible- my desire to continue learning only grows by the day. It's something that I believe every fly-fisher sort of gets addicted to. To the beginner though, I fully realize that while all the intricacies of bug life, tippet diameter, and the benefits of low-stretch core fly lines may be cool and all, but in reality, just going out to the river and catching a damn trout or two seems much, much cooler. The learning process of fly-fishing has been simplified quite a bit over the years thanks to the internet, and information is more readily available than ever for anyone interested in diving into this sport. And aside from all the gadgets, gear, fly names, and dry fly/nymph debates and there is something else that can seem quite daunting to the newbie (or even just newbie to the state).....the CFS of our rivers and how this affects the fishing.

For those unfamiliar with this concept, I'll try to keep it as simple as possible. CFS- or 'cubic feet per second'- is a numeric term used to describe the amount of water currently flowing on a particular river. As you can probably guess, more CFS=more water. The way I like to think of CFS is to picture a basketball. This is approximately 1 foot x 1 foot x 1 foot, or 1 cubic foot. Now draw a line directly across the river. The number of basketballs passing across this line every second is your CFS measurement.

Now that we're familiar with this term, it still probably doesn't mean much without providing some frames of reference for what this looks like.

Below are some examples of our home waters and their 'normal' CFS levels- or perhaps better yet, CFS levels where you can expect to be comfortable (and hopefully successful) wade fishing. With any luck, this will provide some perspective so that when you hear "Dude! Cheesman is at 500 let's get in there!" or "Oh man, I really don't want to go to the Dream Stream when it's only at 55" you'll know that this means A) Cheesman is quite high. B) Dream Stream is on the low side. The figures listed below are what we here around the shop like to see these rivers flowing at. If you see flows on a particular river are below this, expect to find lower water and possibly tougher/more technical fishing. If you see CFS figures much higher, expect to find bigger than normal flows- which isn't always a bad thing- but may make wading much more difficult/dangerous in spots. Oh and yes, once you become familiar with these terms-like in the examples above- you'll likely find yourself dropping the 'cfs' when describing a river as well.

South Platte (Dream Stream/Elevenmile/Cheesman/Deckers)- 100cfs-300cfs

Blue River (Silverthorne)- 50cfs-200cfs

Clear Creek- 50cfs-150cfs

Bear Creek- 50cfs-150cfs

Arkansas (Canon City to Salida)- 300cfs-600cfs

Arkansas (Pueblo Tailwater)- 100cfs-300cfs

Frying Pan- 250-350cfs

Roaring Fork (Basalt to Carbondale)- 500-900cfs

Colorardo (Parshall)- 500-1000cfs

Colorado (Pumphouse)- 1000-2500cfs

Colorado (Glenwood Springs)- 2000-4000cfs


A few final thoughts on CFS.

1) When researching flows, there is more to it than just the instantaneous figure you get at the exact point in time you check. Pay attention to what the river has been doing to gauge how the river might be fishing. The keyword here is 'might'. (there are not guarantees or always in fishing obviously) What I mean by this though is how has the stability of the flows been? Is the river rising, falling, or stable? And for how many days?

2) In my opinion stable water conditions are always going to provide the most consistent and reliable fishing. If a river has been in flux (significantly rising/falling), I typically find that by day 2 or 3 after the river stabilizes (or hopefully returns to 'normal') the fishing will be best.

3) Given the choice, I'd always rather fish on rising water than on falling water. As a general rule- and one that you should keep in mind if you don't- Fish Follow The Water! On rising water, expect the fish to hit the banks picking off worms and other insects that are being washed into the river system. On falling water, expect a lot of fish to play the retreat game and head towards the middle of the river or first major drop-off's/shelves towards the middle. I will qualify my rising water preference by saying either A) low water conditions rising to more normal conditions or B) normal water conditions initially beginning to rise to slightly above normal. A perfect example of this was Cheesman Canyon during the beginning of the summer. When flows were on the rise the first couple of weeks (or even months), the fishing was INSANE! Every fish in the river was up shallow and eating worms being washed into the river. You'd literally be reeling in a fish and it would be puking worms. And then the water didn't quit rising...and then still didn't even after that. The 'Canyon instantly went from really good to really tough. I guess sometimes too much of a good thing really can be a bad thing.

When it comes to fly-fishing in Colorado we have A LOT of water to choose from and in my opinion, it's a pretty special thing that I can wake up here in Denver, grab some coffee, and find myself on any of these rivers a short time later. However, it doesn't matter how perfect your presentation may be, wade fishing any of these rivers, when flows are either extremely low or extremely high, can make for a potentially miserable experience. Thankfully we're here to help make sure this doesn't happen. Aside from keeping an eye on this Blog, be sure to keep your mouse-trigger finger ready on the River Report tab just a few spots to the left of the Blog tab. Stream flows for virtually every major river and stream in the state will be waiting for you!

As always, good luck out there, and please let us know how we can continue to make your time on the water more enjoyable and productive!


ARKANSAS BASIN

Arkansas River at CaƱon City

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2450 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 53/75

Arkansas River at Granite

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1530 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 44/67

Arkansas River at Salida

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1810 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 47/73

Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2210 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 57 °F
  • High/Low 56/79

Arkansas River near Leadville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 343 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 39/60

Arkansas River near Wellsville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2050 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 47/74
COLORADO BASIN

Blue River at Silverthorne

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 103 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 41 °F
  • High/Low 42/66

Blue River below Green Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 107 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 42/69

Blue River near Dillon

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 242 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 41/65

Colorado River at Catamount Bridge

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2410 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 46/70

Colorado River at Windy Gap (Chimney Rock)

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 790 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 42/72

Colorado River below Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 9440 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 56 °F
  • High/Low 49/76

Colorado River near Dotsero

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 5020 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 48/73

Colorado River near Granby

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 75 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 41/69

Colorado River near Kremmling

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1480 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 42/72

Crystal River near Redstone

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1460 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 45/72

Eagle River at Red Cliff

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 169 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 42/65

Eagle River below Edwards

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1660 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 45/70

Eagle River below Gypsum

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2080 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 47/73

Fraser River at Tabernash

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 633 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 40/68

Frying Pan River below Reudi Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 232 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 50 °F
  • High/Low 44/70

Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 629 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 43/69

Gore Creek at Dowd Junction

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 813 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 44/70

Homestake Creek at Gold Park

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 53 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 40/62

Muddy Creek below Wolford Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 82 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 42/71

Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 3560 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 55 °F
  • High/Low 49/76

Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1060 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 44/70

Roaring Fork River near Aspen

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 319 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 43/68

Roaring Fork River near Emma

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1560 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 47/73

Williams Fork River below Williams Fork Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 60 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 42/71
GUNNISON BASIN

Cimarron River near Cimarron

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 365 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 42/67

East River near Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1530 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 50 °F
  • High/Low 42/68

East River near Crested Butte

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1560 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 41/66

Gunnison River at Black Canyon

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1040 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 57 °F
  • High/Low 47/75

Gunnison River near Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 4960 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 63 °F
  • High/Low 52/83

Gunnison River near Gunnison

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2500 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 43/69

San Miguel River near Nulca (at Brooks Bridge)

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 843 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 58 °F
  • High/Low 54/82

San Miguel River near Placerville

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 764 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 48/71

Taylor River at Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 977 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 50 °F
  • High/Low 42/68

Taylor River at Taylor Park

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 471 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 39/61

Taylor River below Taylor Park Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 464 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 39/62

Uncompahgre River at Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 510 cfs
  • Wind 9 mph
  • Air Temp 63 °F
  • High/Low 52/83

Uncompahgre River below Ridgeway Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 356 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 56 °F
  • High/Low 48/75
RIO GRANDE BASIN

Rio Grande River at Wagon Wheel Gap

RIO GRANDE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2300 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 41/65
SAN JUAN BASIN

Animas River above Tacoma

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2620 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 45/69

Animas River at Durango

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2940 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 50/77

Animas River at Silverton

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 867 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 40/58

Animas River near Cedar Hill, NM

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2740 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 57 °F
  • High/Low 53/79

Animas River near Howardsville

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 590 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 39/57

Dolores River at Bedrock

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1520 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 60 °F
  • High/Low 56/84

Dolores River at Dolores

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2060 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 50/74

Dolores River below Rico

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 607 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 42/65

Piedra River near Arboles

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1220 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 48/79

San Juan River at Pagosa Springs

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1990 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 45/76

San Juan River below Navajo Reservoir

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 4350 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Air Temp 61 °F
  • High/Low 56/81
SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

Bear Creek at Morrison

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 126 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 51/73

Big Thompson at Canyon Mouth (near Drake)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 201 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 45/67

Boulder Creek at Nederland

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 252 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 42/66

Cache La Poudre River at Canyon Mouth

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2160 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 49/73

Cache La Poudre River at Fort Collins

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2050 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 52/77

Clear Creek at Golden

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 728 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 52/74

Clear Creek near Downieville

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 448 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 43/67

North Fork of South Platte River at Bailey

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

  • Flow 206 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Air Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 44/68

North Fork of the South Platte at Grant

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 187 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 41 °F
  • High/Low 41/66

Roberts Tunnel East Portal at Grant

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 0 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 41/65

South Platte River at Deckers

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 232 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 48/74

South Platte River at Denver

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1820 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 54 °F
  • High/Low 54/78

South Platte River below 11 Mile Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 44 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 42/66

South Platte River below Chatfield Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 577 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Air Temp 54 °F
  • High/Low 51/76

South Platte River below Cheesman Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 134 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 47/73

South Platte River below Spinney Reservoir (Dream Stream)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 38 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Air Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 42/66

St. Vrain Creek at Lyons

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 604 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 51/73
YAMPA BASIN

Elk River near Milner

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 3370 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 44/72

North Platte River near North Gate Canyon

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1850 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 42/69

White River below Meeker

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2530 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Air Temp 53 °F
  • High/Low 51/77

Yampa River above Lake Catamount

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 681 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 45/73

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 2650 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 45/71

Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 103 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Air Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 44/72

Yampa River near Maybell

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 7180 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Air Temp 52 °F
  • High/Low 51/78
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