It’s gettin’ too hot to fish
Fishing could be the next activity banned in some places because of the hot, dry weather.
The Colorado Wildlife Commission approved a regulation Wednesday giving Division of Wildlife director Russell George the authority to close waters to fishing when the combination of high water temperatures and low flows threaten fish populations, a DOW news release said.
The regulation was needed because continuing drought and warm temperatures have pushed water temperatures above 74 degrees in streams such as the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs. DOW already has asked anglers not to fish in the Yampa between Stagecoach Reservoir and the confluence with the Elk River north of Steamboat, but no mandatory closures have been ordered.
While some closures are possible here in the Roaring Fork Valley, there are some stretches of river that have a built-in phenomenon that keeps fish cool.
“The Fryingpan River is a tailwater, so water temperatures never get above the low 50s,” said Will Sands, a guide at Basalt’s Taylor Creek Fly Shop.
By tailwater, Sands was referring to the fact that water from the Fryingpan comes from the depths of Ruedi Reservoir, so temperatures remain fairly constant.
The Fryingpan also cools off the Roaring Fork River below their confluence in Basalt.
But from Carbondale down to Glenwood Springs, the Roaring Fork is susceptible to warm waters that can be stressful to trout. The Colorado River also could be affected.
The rivers faced a similar situation last year, but Sands said once the monsoons kicked in, evening rains cooled the river.
“If we have our little monsoon season, it’s very possible we won’t have any closures in the valley,” Sands said.
At water temperatures above 70 degrees, cold water species such as trout are under unusual stress, and the added stress of being hooked and released by an angler increases the chance that a fish will die after being returned to the water, according to DOW biologists.
George has not yet decided to close any waters to fishing, and he won’t unless he receives a recommendation from aquatic biologists. Instead, the division will evaluate the voluntary closure on the Yampa and on other streams.
“We want to try the voluntary closures first,” said Ron Velarde, the Division’s regional manager for western Colorado. “We’ve had good compliance with voluntary closures in the past.”
According to DOW district wildlife manager Kelly Wood, the division’s local fishery biologist, Alan Czenkusch, was out Thursday testing water temperatures.
Velarde said wildlife officers would continue to check anglers fishing in the Yampa and ask them to comply with the voluntary closure. Local tackle shops and fishing groups also will urge anglers to comply, as will local government officials.
“We think peer pressure will be an important factor in gaining their cooperation,” Velarde said.
And although summer fishing is their bread and butter, Sands said it is in fly shops’ best interest to protect the fish.
“If it comes down to not fishing, that’s what we’ll do,” he said, referring to any closed sections of river. “But the Fryingpan is always kind of a backup for us.”
DOW aquatic biologists also are asking anglers in other areas to stop fishing when water temperature climbs above 65 degrees and to fish in the early morning hours when water temperatures usually are lower.
DOW biologists are asking that hooked fish be released as quickly as possible and kept in the water as much as possible while the hook is being removed. Anglers also should make sure their hands are wet before touching the fish to avoid removing the fish’s protective mucous, which prevents fungal infections.
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