Vail Valley Fishing Outlook for 2023 [ PLUS 5 Tips for Pre-Runoff Success]

Vail Fishing Outlook for 2023 [Plus 5 Tips for Pre-Runoff Success]

Spring is officially here, the snow has stopped momentarily, the sun is out, and the rivers are beginning to really come to life. This past winter has been one for the books, Vail mountain has had an above average snow water equivalent coming in at 21.5%, 113% of the normal according to the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District. (*Snow Water Equivalent is a measure of the water content in snow.). So what does the 2023 fishing outlook look like? 

Many skiers and snowboarders have been ecstatic with the winter conditions on the mountain, for anglers the winter fishing was a bit slower as the average air temperatures were on the colder side. We did have a great ice fishing season. With this above average snowpack, there will be better fishing conditions coming, that is a fact! 

According to NOAA, the Upper Colorado River Basin is “Near normal to above normal water supply runoff volumes are expected across the Upper Colorado River Basin and Great Basin. Water year precipitation to date has been above normal over most of the region. with snowpacks generally well above normal with many basins reporting 150% or more of normal snowpack” At the beginning of April, we are sitting at just over 130% of the snow water equivalent. Giving us a good amount of water to work with for a more elongated runoff period. 

2023 Fly Fishing Outlook for the Western Slope of Colorado:

With the above-average snowpack totals across the western slope, we are sitting pretty well for a productive spring and summer of fishing opportunities. A lot can change quickly based on weather conditions, if we get a large stint of warm weather in April we could see the rivers begin to rise quickly and runoff could happen faster. But the most likely outcome would be a decent pre-runoff period of fishing conditions from now until the last week of April, then runoff conditions set in during the month of May. With the current above average snowpack, it does give us a little bit of buffer that hints toward longer periods of good fishing conditions for 2023. 

When Will Runoff Peak: 

Typically the Eagle River Runoff peaks at some point in mid-May. Let’s take last year for example, on May 20th the Eagle River peaked at around 4,950 CFS at the Dotsero gauge. During this time last year, our Snow Water Equivalent in Colorado Headwaters was around the median average at 15.5 (in.) whereas this year we are sitting at 21.5 (in), a good bit above average (see graphic below). Suggesting that runoff will most likely last longer into May. Meaning fishing in April will be good and May would be the month that could pose runoff conditions with late May/early June being the peak of runoff. This could change fast based on the weather we have here in the next two months. 

If we had to predict peak runoff this year one might say the last week of May or the first week of June. With prime float fishing on the Eagle happening in late June and through the month of July. Which would be ideal for all anglers in the area. Having a good snowpack is like having money in the bank for anglers, with more snow we can enjoy longer periods of productive fishing conditions to come. So what are some ways to take advantage of the fishing in the next month? Follow along below to learn more. 

5 Tips for Pre-Runoff Success:

April can be the best-kept secret for fishing conditions on the Western Slope of the Rockies. The fish put on the feedbag, there is less pressure from other anglers, and the techniques can be pretty straightforward and not too technical.

prerunoff fly fishing

Tip #1: Weather and Streamflows Matter: 

It is simple, this time of year weather and streamflows matter and will directly impact fishing conditions. The first signs of warm weather can mean the fish are going to be active and the fishing should be productive. Consistent weather temps also play a role, when the temperatures are more consistent, so is the fishing. 

As for streamflows, due to the annual runoff and snowmelt occurring it is extremely important to understand streamflows. You can check all streamflows on our fishing report website HERE. Warm spring days and cold nights can cause the streamflows to rollercoaster along, and heavy rains can cause blowouts. All of which can impact the fishing. Some of these blowouts can cause turbidity to change. Too much turbidity can make things unfishable but a little bit can really turn on the bite. The best way to stay on top of fishing conditions is by stopping by or calling the fly shop. 

Tip #2 Size Up, Not Down:

As mentioned above streamflows and turbidity are at the mercy of the weather conditions this time of year. When the rivers are on the rise small baitfish, sculpins, and insect life like stoneflies and mayflies are dislodged from rocks. Where they float helplessly through the current. Trout being the opportunistic creatures they are, seize the opportunity and enjoy the all you can eat buffet. Due to the heavy feeding, the trout get less picky. When this occurs there is an opportunity for anglers to size up flies and size up tippet strenth. We recommend the Umpqua Phantom X Flurocarbon Tippet

Umpqua Fluorocarbon Tippet

Try throwing bigger attractor patterns on nymphing rigs. Like big stonefly nymphs (i.e. Girdle Bugs or Pat’s Rubber Legs), or worm patterns like the Squirmy Worm or San Juan Worm. You can trail your attractor pattern with a flashy bead head nymph or even an egg pattern. For tippet size, we recommended 3X Fluorocarbon for these nymph patterns.

Tip #3 Get Dirty with Dirty Water: 

Dirty water can sometimes mean good things to come. Even though the clarity of the river may look unfishable from the road, walk down to the river to see if you can see your feet if you walk in to around your thighs. If you can see your feet, the water is fishable. Don’t always rule out fishing if the water is colored up. A little bit of color can really turn the fishing on as the fish lose some of their senses and you can take advantage of this. Streamer fishing can be the most productive when the water is off-color. Some of the bigger fish can be easily caught during these conditions. So be sure to prepare to land a trophy trout! 

Tip #4 Cover More Water Than Normal and Utilize a Boat:

When streamflows are higher, the fishable water begins to shrink as fish move into select areas of the river where there is softer holding water. This softer water is typically found along the banks or back eddies. More often than not when you get a fly in front of the fish this time of year, they will eat. Taking that into consideration, don’t waste your time fishing the same water over and over again. Instead, cover a good amount of water. Float fishing can be the most effective way to do so this time of year as you can cast to the soft water along the banks with streamers or have nice controlled drifts alongside the boat. You can cover a ton of water in a fast period of time.

Tip #5 Book a Guided Trip with One of Our Professional Guides: 

Cutbow Eagle River

If you don’t have a boat or want to utilize your time efficiently on the water, one of our professional guides is available to show you the way. April is typically the first month of the year when we can float the Eagle River. When this window opens up it is not to be missed. Many of these fish haven’t seen flies all year as the float is through private water. For more information or availability on our guided trips, you can call the shop at 9709260900 or email us at

Patrick Perry, Former Float Fishing Guide, and Content Contributor @patperry