The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission has announced that the upper Arkansas River is the newest addition to the statewide list of Gold Medal Trout Waters.
The Gold Medal reach is 102 miles long, from the confluence with the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River, near Leadville, downstream to Parkdale at the Highway 50 bridge crossing above the Royal Gorge.
The designation has been 20 years in the making, and although anglers have enjoyed the improved conditions for years, it is an official acknowledgement of the myriad efforts undertaken by state and federal agencies to turn an impaired river into one of the most popular fishing destinations in Colorado.
“The upper Arkansas River fishery is the best it has been in over a century thanks to the efforts and hard work of many agencies and individuals that have recognized its great potential,” said Greg Policky, CPW aquatic biologist. “I am very pleased that this outstanding river has received the Gold Medal designation and is now ranked among the elite trout fisheries in Colorado.”
In order to receive a Gold Medal listing, a body of water must consistently support a minimum trout standing stock of 60 pounds per acre, as well as consistently support a minimum average of 12 quality trout — trout larger than 14 inches — per acre.
In the last 20 years, the upper Arkansas River has undergone a habitat transformation. Fish populations in the area were impacted by heavy metal pollution from mining in the Leadville area. Because of the pollution, trout could not live in the area, and they did not live beyond three years old further downstream.
Today, trout are living up to ten years old due to habitat restoration, improved water quality and creative fishery management. The present-day fish population has benefited from these habitat efforts and has met the Gold Medal designation since 1999 for both the quality of trout per acre and the standing crop.
The Arkansas River ranked as the favorite fishing destination for residents of Colorado, according to a 2012 angler survey. Angler use reached a significant milestone in 2012 when an estimated 100,000 anglers fished the river throughout the year between Leadville and Parkdale. More than 65 percent of the river stretch is open to the angling public via federal and state-owned land and numerous state-controlled fishing leases and easements.
With the addition of the Arkansas River, total Gold Medal stream miles in Colorado increases by 50 percent to 322 total miles. It will also be the longest reach of Gold Medal water in the state.
“The upper Arkansas River fishery is the best it has been in over a century thanks to the efforts and hard work of many agencies and individuals that have recognized its great potential.”
CPW aquatic biologist