By Anna Maria Basquez

SALIDA, Colo. (CBS4) – Angling and rafting enthusiast Bob Hamel took a drive by the Arkansas River this weekend. He says he saw a few rafting boats start up and the biggest concentration of fishermen out after the Caddis hatch, an influx lasting another two weeks.

(credit: CBS)

“I drove by and there are tons of fishermen, fisherwomen… the anglers are out big time,” said Hamel, Executive Director of the Arkansas River Outfitters Association. “Because we have this hatch going, the fly fishermen are here in droves, in kind of a concentrated part of the season. Once we get going people are scattered all over the state…”

The difference between this and any other year is 2021 posed a record year with river recreation. Numbers came in at 40% higher in Arkansas River usage and 50% higher in revenues over the 2020 year with the enthusiasts taking advantage of being out after COVID, he said.

The hatch season on the Arkansas goes until mid-May as is typical when the whitewater hits peak, Hamel said.

“With fishing, it will be really busy for another couple of weeks. They’ll disappear through the high water peak flows, then come out at the end of June. Rivers will get really muddy and fishing gets difficult. There are more people fishing now even than in the summer. They just spread out to the rest of the state later.”

The Arkansas River has one of the first hatches happening in the state, starting on around April 20, and what Hamel says is easily the biggest. Next, the Southwestern rivers are starting to get more of a bump in fishing with the warmer weather and the Poudre might have it next.

Rivers such as the Gunnison and North Platte take longer, he said.

“The temperature of the river has to hit 54 degrees and that produces this hatch, and we’re there with the warm weather,” he said. “It’s set to nature’s calendar.”

(credit: CBS)

“It will with weather come and go, then it moves upstream. Right now, the leading edge of it is above Salida. It will keep going all the way up towards Buena Vista. It’s an elevation and geography.”

Compared to last year, river rafting looks similar to last year in many ways, he said, including similar snowpack.

“We’re still riding high with the number of people wanting to get out since pandemic hit,” Hamel said.