Well, we knew it was going to happen. Low water, reduced snowmelt and aside from a recent series of sporadic torrential rains, the river flows have dropped and the water temperature has risen. So much so that Colorado Parks and Wildlife stepped in to save us from our self-inflicted woe.
That’s right, most fly fishermen will practice catch and release with their trout. It is a thought towards conservation, believing that the trout will be more valuable to be caught again. And for the most part, catching and releasing is a savior for heavily fished waters.
But we’ve reached a point where our conservation-oriented practices are as deadly as a fillet knife and a cooler. The only difference is the immediacy of their death. Fish caught and released back into high temperature river water will succumb to low oxygen levels and die. Fishing for trout in waters above 68 degrees creates conditions that trout cannot recover from.
They will swim away, displaying strength and speed when released, only to float or drift downstream in the middle of the stream and turn white. Trout played for some time in hot water declines rapidly. Don’t let your well-earned catch spill and swell in the eddies.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife has implemented a voluntary closure to fishing along the Colorado River from Kremmling to Rifle. A stretch of river about 120 miles long, closed to fishing. While this closure is voluntary, an emergency mandatory closure could follow if conditions do not improve. The closure went into effect on Wednesday.
With resources being used by an exponential number of newly initiated and COVID-created anglers as well as the existing fly fishing population, local waters have felt the excess. Focusing on our precious resources in a vulnerable state is neither ethical nor responsible.
Trout are fragile at the moment. As cold water creatures, one thing that helps keep them going is the endangered resource we call cold water. Climate change is affecting our local waters before our eyes. I have seen the depleted rivers and the rising water temperature change incredibly since I arrived in the valley three decades ago.
Organizations like Trout Unlimited represent the interests of all anglers and strive to keep cold water fishing everywhere. I encourage all anglers, especially those chasing trout, to join. Being a member of an organization like Trout Unlimited creates a collective voice that sounds louder than any individual could ever cry out.
Recognizing the risks associated with angling in high water temperatures is a start. Knowing that even your best intentions to catch and release will result in inevitable mortality, we are placing increased emphasis on our angling efforts. Choosing alternative locations like some of our local calm waters such as Lake Nottingham, Black Lakes and Piney Lake will provide enjoyable fishing without damaging our local fishery.
It’s time to focus our efforts on alternative locations besides our warming rivers. Reservoirs and lakes, although not the normal location for fly fishermen, can be exceptional destinations for angling. Local fly shops have flies specially selected for flatwater fly fishing. With a little adjustment to your game, the lakes can be a new friend. And learning to apply your current knowledge to calm waters makes you a better angler.
The decisions we make now will determine the future of our local fishery. Focusing your fishing efforts on calm waters is a great willful way to avoid fishing our warming waters. All good intentions aside, capture and release practices can now be fatal. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Colorado’s parks and wildlife to see if conditions improve.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River Valley in 1992. He began professionally guiding fly fishing in 2002. His freelance writings have appeared in numerous magazines and websites including: Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly. mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the shore of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a pair of yellow Labrador retrievers.