A tame spring runoff

Richard Burke

In the past week, we’ve crossed a good number of creeks and rivers in the south a couple of times and found most in a full, but much-reduced spring runoff. It’s certainly not your typical raging, muddy water.
Most are off-colour – tributaries such as Lyons, York, Coal and Blairmore creeks entering the Crowsnest are varying shades of brown but Gold Creek at Frank isn’t far from what you’d more likely find in late June. The Crow at Frank is about average for this time of year, at about 15 cubic meters per second.goldcreek
But, in general, the snow-pack this year in the Oldman drainage was below average, and that’s reflected in a relatively-tame runoff.
In the West Castle River, a tributary of the Castle which in turn flows into the Oldman Reservoir at Highway 3 between Pincher Creek and Cowley, snow-pack was only 18 per cent of the historic average. This week, the Castle runoff was brackish coming into the reservoir.
South Racehorse Creek, a tributary of the Oldman nearer the source in the northwest arm, was pretty close to the historic average at 94 percent. But in the southern part of the Oldman drainage, Lee Creek had the lowest snow-pack in recorded history.
Flows in the Belly and St. Mary – rivers which originate in Montana’s Glacier National Park – are well below normal, nudging historic lows. At Highway 5, the Belly was off-colour somewhat, but the flow hardly seemed menacing.
Waterton Lakes and Waterton River flowing out of the lower lake, were clear and the river flow seemed quite benign. The river near Glenwood is running at below the lowest historic average at about 7 cubic meters per second.
Coming out of the Front Range southwest of Pincher Creek, flows are about average at Dungarvan, Drywood and Yarrow Creek . Yarrow, for example, is in the mid-historic range at about 3.5 cubic meters per second.
Pincher Creek, on the other had, runs muddy into the Oldman just west of Brocket. Its runoff flows are nearer the high historic range, at 4 cubic feet per second.
But, all in all, a pretty quiet spring runoff which should peter out a lot earlier than the usual near-end of June, at the rate it’s going. Of course, all bets are off if it rains a lot in June. But, that’s only peripherally related to spring runoff.
Fishing where it’s legal now – in the Crowsnest between Lundbreck Falls and the East Hillcrest (Passburg) bridge is probably doable, although I’d still just as soon wait until it’s a little more comfortable to cross.
Downstream of the Oldman dam is certainly fishable in the Cottonwood campground area – a few fly fishers are out regularly.  Colour and flow actually don’t seem much different than normal – for much later in the year.
A reminder that elsewhere, stream fishing season in general opens June 15.snowpatch Check the regulations.
Local lore in the Pass area has it that you can tell runoff has ended  – and runs and pools have developed – when two patches of snow at the top of a low mountain in the Adanac Road area have disappeared. You can see the progress of the melting snow patches as you drive south along Highway 3 just south of the East Bellevue access, where the Crowsnest Angler Fly Shop is located.
Until those patches are gone, I’ll try my luck at still water such as Police Lake with a friend and, perhaps son-in-law, assuming the weather will co-operate.