Denver – Trout Unlimited today asked Colorado anglers to voluntarily restrict their fishing on portions of the Colorado River headwaters stricken by drought and high water temperatures. TU is urging anglers to avoid fishing on the Fraser and Upper Colorado rivers during the hottest part of the day, or to fish in Grand County’s higher-elevation lakes or cooler tailwater areas until conditions improve.
“Trout need cold, clean water to survive. The combination of drought conditions, extensive diversions, and record heat is putting enormous stress on fish populations,” said Drew Peternell, director of TU’s Colorado Water Project. “With low flows and high water temperatures, trout populations will be in survival mode this summer. Unless and until flow conditions improve, we’re asking anglers give our fish a break.”
Trout Unlimited’s recommended closure comes on the heels of a similar call by Colorado Parks and Wildlife for anglers to voluntarily limit their fishing on the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs, which recently recorded temperatures of 72 degrees through town. Water temperatures above 70 degrees Fahrenheit can be stressful or fatal to trout. Peak temperatures on the Fraser River near Tabernash have surpassed 70 degrees in recent days. Anecdotal reports indicate that similar high temperatures are found on the Colorado River between Windy Gap and the Williams Fork.
“These problems underscore how important healthy flows are to our rivers,” said Peternell. For years, the Upper Colorado and Fraser rivers have struggled with low flows and stressed habitat due to major water diversions to the Front Range. Two new projects, the proposed Moffat Tunnel and Windy Gap expansions, will add to that stress. “Drought and water diversions have put these rivers in a vulnerable state, and, as anglers, we need to do our part to protect fisheries.”
“We are asking our 10,000 state members and all Colorado anglers to exercise restraint and good sportsmanship in the use of these priceless resources,” said David Nickum, executive director of Colorado TU. “Failure to do so could set back fishing opportunities and the region’s recreation economy for years to come.”
When fish are struggling with elevated water temperatures, it makes them much more vulnerable to hooking mortality when they are caught and released. As long as temperatures remain scorching and streamflows low, “anglers should fish in the cooler hours of the early morning, and bring along a thermometer to check water temperatures regularly,” said Kirk Klancke, president of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter. “As a simple rule of thumb, when water temperatures rise above 65 degrees, that’s a good time to give the fish a break.”
Anglers can also seek out Grand County’s outstanding higher-elevation lakes and tailwater fisheries that are less affected by heat conditions.
TU plans to step up efforts this summer to educate anglers about the dangers of low flows and high stream temperatures, and the need for proper handling and release of fish.
“Incorrect handling of caught fish can lead to mortality,” said Nickum. “Proper release is always important, and that’s especially true during times of high heat and stress.”
Anglers should avoid playing fish to exhaustion and return fish to the water as quickly as possible. They should also wet their hands before handling fish and avoid overhandling them, which can remove the protective layer of slime on fish. Keep the fish in the water as much as possible. These proper catch-and-release methods can help promote fish survival.
Trout Unlimited is a non-profit organization with more than 147,000 members dedicated to conserving, protecting and restoring North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. TU has 10,000 members in Colorado.