In an effort to restore predictable ecologically relevant spring snowmelt recession flow patterns in rivers regulated by dams, this study defined a methodology by which spring flow regimes can be modeled in regulated systems from the quantifiable characteristics of spring snowmelt recessions in unregulated rivers. An analysis of eight unregulated rivers across the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California found that unregulated systems behaved similarly with respect to seasonal spring patterns and recession limb curvature, and thus prescribed flows could be designed in a manner that mimics those predictable characteristics. Using the methodology to quantify spring recession flows in terms of a daily percent decrease in flow, a series of flow recession scenarios were created for application in an existing hydrodynamic model for the regulated Rubicon River. The modeling results showed that flow recessions with slow ramping rates similar to those observed in unregulated rivers (less than 10% per day) were likely to be protective of native aquatic species, such as the Foothill yellow‐legged frog, while flows that receded at greater rates would likely result in desiccation of egg masses and potential stranding of tadpoles and fry. Furthermore, recession rates of less than 10% per day provided the most spatially diverse hydraulic habitat in the modeled domain for an appropriate duration in spring to support all native species guilds and maximize aquatic biodiversity.