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Trouts Journal

Trouts Classics // Back To Basics: Know The Flow

Brandon Rodriguez / 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 322 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Temp 51 °F
  • High/Low 44/64

Arkansas River at Granite

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 29/43

Arkansas River at Salida

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 252 cfs
  • Wind 16 mph
  • Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 34/52

Arkansas River below Pueblo Reservoir

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 119 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 59 °F
  • High/Low 48/70

Arkansas River near Leadville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 23 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 24/38

Arkansas River near Wellsville

ARKANSAS BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 318 cfs
  • Wind 12 mph
  • Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 35/53
COLORADO BASIN

Blue River at Silverthorne

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 124 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 25/41

Blue River below Green Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 405 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 27/42

Blue River near Dillon

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 46 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 24/41

Colorado River at Catamount Bridge

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 712 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 31/44

Colorado River at Windy Gap (Chimney Rock)

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 106 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 27/43

Colorado River below Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1630 cfs
  • Wind 20 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 32/46

Colorado River near Dotsero

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 976 cfs
  • Wind 24 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 31/45

Colorado River near Granby

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 25 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 27/42

Colorado River near Kremmling

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 708 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 28/43

Crystal River near Redstone

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 97 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 28/42

Eagle River at Red Cliff

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 10 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 25/40

Eagle River below Edwards

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 72 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 28/42

Eagle River below Gypsum

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 169 cfs
  • Wind 24 mph
  • Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 32/46

Fraser River at Tabernash

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow -999999 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 28/42

Frying Pan River below Reudi Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 72 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 29/42

Gore Creek above Red Sandstone Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 15 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 26/41

Gore Creek at Dowd Junction

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 18 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 38 °F
  • High/Low 27/42

Homestake Creek at Gold Park

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 8 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 24/38

Muddy Creek below Wolford Mountain Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 82 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 27/43

Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 609 cfs
  • Wind 20 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 32/46

Roaring Fork River below Maroon Creek

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 137 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 30/44

Roaring Fork River near Aspen

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 34 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 30/42

Roaring Fork River near Emma

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 264 cfs
  • Wind 11 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 31/45

Williams Fork River below Williams Fork Reservoir

COLORADO BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 67 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 28/44
GUNNISON BASIN

Cimarron River near Cimarron

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 18 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 29/42

East River near Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 92 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 28/44

East River near Crested Butte

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 101 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 27/41

Gunnison River at Black Canyon

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 361 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 35/48

Gunnison River near Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 718 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 41/55

Gunnison River near Gunnison

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 260 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 30/47

San Miguel River near Nulca (at Brooks Bridge)

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 97 cfs
  • Wind 13 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 38/55

San Miguel River near Placerville

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 102 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Temp 38 °F
  • High/Low 31/46

Taylor River at Almont

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 119 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 28/44

Taylor River at Taylor Park

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 41 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 24/39

Taylor River below Taylor Park Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 76 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 24/39

Uncompahgre River at Delta

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 491 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 41/55

Uncompahgre River below Ridgeway Reservoir

GUNNISON BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 58 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Temp 41 °F
  • High/Low 35/50
RIO GRANDE BASIN

Rio Grande River at Wagon Wheel Gap

RIO GRANDE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 189 cfs
  • Wind 14 mph
  • Temp 40 °F
  • High/Low 27/46
SAN JUAN BASIN

Animas River above Tacoma

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 194 cfs
  • Wind 11 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 31/47

Animas River at Durango

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 287 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 38/53

Animas River at Silverton

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 48 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 35 °F
  • High/Low 25/39

Animas River near Cedar Hill, NM

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 360 cfs
  • Wind 13 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 43/55

Animas River near Howardsville

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 38 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 24/37

Dolores River at Bedrock

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 6 cfs
  • Wind 11 mph
  • Temp 39 °F
  • High/Low 39/56

Dolores River at Dolores

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 87 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 34/48

Dolores River below Rico

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 45 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 26/42

Piedra River near Arboles

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 72 cfs
  • Wind 6 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 39/54

San Juan River at Pagosa Springs

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 67 cfs
  • Wind 20 mph
  • Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 34/52

San Juan River below Navajo Reservoir

SAN JUAN BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 435 cfs
  • Wind 8 mph
  • Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 45/57
SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

Bear Creek at Morrison

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 15 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 44/61

Big Thompson at Canyon Mouth (near Drake)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 40 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 31/47

Boulder Creek at Nederland

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 10 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 36 °F
  • High/Low 31/46

Cache La Poudre River at Canyon Mouth

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 94 cfs
  • Wind 2 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 39/57

Cache La Poudre River at Fort Collins

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 18 cfs
  • Wind 1 mph
  • Temp 45 °F
  • High/Low 43/60

Clear Creek at Golden

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 69 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 46 °F
  • High/Low 46/61

Clear Creek near Downieville

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 40 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 38 °F
  • High/Low 29/45

North Fork of South Platte River

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN

  • Flow 244 cfs
  • Wind 12 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 32/50

South Platte River at Deckers

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 167 cfs
  • Wind 16 mph
  • Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 38/58

South Platte River at Denver

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 109 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 47 °F
  • High/Low 48/63

South Platte River below 11 Mile Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 118 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 30/47

South Platte River below Chatfield Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 1 cfs
  • Wind 5 mph
  • Temp 49 °F
  • High/Low 43/63

South Platte River below Cheesman Reservoir

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 151 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 48 °F
  • High/Low 37/56

South Platte River below Spinney Reservoir (Dream Stream)

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 148 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 30/47

St. Vrain Creek at Lyons

SOUTH PLATTE BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 55 cfs
  • Wind 7 mph
  • Temp 44 °F
  • High/Low 39/60
YAMPA BASIN

Elk River near Milner

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 160 cfs
  • Wind 17 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 31/43

North Platte River near North Gate Canyon

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 102 cfs
  • Wind 4 mph
  • Temp 34 °F
  • High/Low 27/39

White River below Meeker

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 343 cfs
  • Wind 18 mph
  • Temp 33 °F
  • High/Low 34/43

Yampa River above Lake Catamount

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 56 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 42 °F
  • High/Low 27/43

Yampa River at Steamboat Springs

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 103 cfs
  • Wind 3 mph
  • Temp 43 °F
  • High/Low 30/43

Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 37 cfs
  • Wind 0 mph
  • Temp 41 °F
  • High/Low 26/42

Yampa River near Maybell

YAMPA BASIN - Click for more details

  • Flow 243 cfs
  • Wind 21 mph
  • Temp 37 °F
  • High/Low 37/45
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