Water levels have outfitters, anglers reeling

A drift boat full of anglers makes its way down the Roaring Fork River near Carbondale last week. Drought conditions have river levels significantly lower the average in the Roaring Fork Valley, and have impacted the fishing season.
Kyle Mills/Post Independent

Drought conditions on the Western Slope have the Colorado, Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers at historically low levels.

“Resources have been stressed, and people don’t want to stress them any further,” said Tony Fotopulos, partner and outfitter from Roaring Fork Anglers in Glenwood Springs and Alpine Angling in Carbondale.

Fotopulos, who has 28 years of guiding experience in the valley, has never seen the rivers this low before.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife put a voluntary closure into place in late July, and anglers were advised not to fish from 2 p.m. to midnight until further notice.

“Fish don’t do well in warmer water, it depletes the waters of oxygen levels and reduces their chance of survivability,” said Lani Kitching, a Carbondale trustee and owner Proudline Guided Fly Fishing.

As of last week, the Roaring Fork River between Basalt and Carbondale was running at 330 cubic feet per second, just 59 percent of average, according to the Roaring Fork Conservancy’s weekly Roaring Fork Watershed report.

The Crystal River is in even more dire straits, running at just 8.1 cfs as of Aug. 9; just 6 percent of average for this time of year.

Lower water levels raise the water temperature, putting a strain on fish.

“Everyone has a healthy attitude toward the health of the rivers and their ecosystems,” Fotopulos said.

“Guided trips are down 20 percent this season,” Fotopulos said. “We’ve moved things around, we are on the river by 6 a.m. and off the water by 1 p.m.”

Fotopulos said, “Water releases from Ruedi and Green Mountain Reservoirs are definitely helping, it has really brought the temperatures down.”

The earlier-than-usual spring runoff this year fast-forwarded the rivers usual levels by around six weeks. “We didn’t have snow melt for sustainable flows for very long,” Kitching said.

“Typically in the month of August the rivers aren’t navigable due to low water, and that is generally applicable to the Roaring Fork and Crystal,” Kitching said. The season was a bit different also primarily due to the Lake Christine fire, which was a bigger deterrent to anglers than the river conditions.

As for local rafting outfitters, it’s been a different type of year for them, as well.

Ryan Moyer, owner of Up the Creek Rafting usually runs guided trips on the Colorado, Roaring Fork and Crystal Rivers, but the water levels have him down to just running the Colorado.

“We were able to stretch trips through the middle of July on the Roaring Fork,” Moyer said “It was pretty low by the time we called it.”

“We only got one trip down the Crystal, took four people. The flow during peak season was more like the flow during low-water season,” said Moyer.

Up the Creek Rafting usually takes closer to 50 trips down the Crystal River in a normal season.

For Whitewater Rafting LLC. It’s been one of their better years. “We are seeing a lot more families and first timers because of the less intimidating water,” said Phoebe Larsson, a partner in the company.

“We float the primary section of the Colorado, 9 miles from Shoshone rapids to our riverfront property on Devereux Road,” Larrson said.

“We have received a lot of phone calls making sure we aren’t on fire and still doing trips from people aware of the drought conditions,” Larrson added. “Our community is more worried about the ecosystem of the rivers and looking forward to a great high snow pack winter.”

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