DOW asks anglers to avoid river |

DOW asks anglers to avoid river

Dave Shively

A potential tubing customer waits at a shop window at Backdoor Sports in downtown Steamboat Springs on Friday. Thursday's rain buoyed the level of water in the Yampa River, but recreational users still are urged to stay away from the town stretch of the river. Wildlife officials want to avoid placing fish and other river wildlife under any additional stresses.

— Low flows in the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs have given city officials and state wildlife experts reason to make the weekend’s potential recreational users think twice before wading in.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife issued a formal request Friday for anglers to obey a voluntary fishing closure on the town stretch of the Yampa River – from the Chuck Lewis State Wildfire Area to the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge on the west side of town.

On Friday afternoon, the Yampa River was flowing at 95 cubic feet per second, as measured at the U.S. Geological Survey gauge at Fifth Street. That measurement was a slight increase from the previous day, due to Thursday’s afternoon precipitation, but it still puts the Yampa at one-fifth of its typical volume for this time of year. The lower volume of water means reduced habitat availability that puts the health of fish species in jeopardy, particularly when combined with high water temperatures and low dissolved oxygen levels.

Steamboat Springs area DOW fisheries biologist Bill Atkinson said high water temperatures are the most critical stressor for trout. According to Atkinson, upper lethal limits for trout range from water temperatures of 74 to 79 degrees, and with the Yampa’s temperatures now exceeding 71 degrees in the afternoon, trout and whitefish are congregating in the few pools of cool water.

“Once it gets warmer, those fish will pull in tight to Fish Creek and stack like cordwood in the cooler water,” said Steve Henderson, co-owner of Steamboat Flyfisher. Henderson is respecting the voluntary ban by not taking guests to the sensitive town stretch of the Yampa and by recommending anglers head in one of two directions – to high country streams, lakes or reservoirs or downstream of the Yampa’s confluence with the Elk River. “It’s ironic with the water today being better than it has in weeks – the water level went up 25 percent overnight,” Henderson said.

He wasn’t the only one surprised by the welcome rain of Thursday afternoon.

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Peter Van De Carr had to suspend the large commercial tubing outfit he runs through his shop, Backdoor Sports, on Thursday after the Yampa dipped below 85 cfs – the “magic number” level that outfitters cannot operate under according to the city’s Yampa River Management Plan.

But as long as cool temperatures and rain allow the flow to remain at the appropriate level, Van De Carr (879-6249) and Pete Dawson, general manager of One Stop Ski Shop (879-4916), said they will continue offering tubing on a day-to-day basis. They encourage floaters to call their listed shop numbers to inquire if trips will be scheduled. Bucking Rainbow Outfitters (879-8747) said they would hold off on additional tubing trips to see whether the riverflow remains above 85 cfs, while Barry Smith, owner of Mountain Sports Kayak School (879-8794), said he would teach lessons on the town section while at appropriate flows, moving to lakes and deeper sections of the river downstream when necessary.

As for going for a swim to beat the heat, city Open Space supervisor Craig Robinson encouraged folks to minimize their use of the Yampa and head for the lakes and reservoirs versus jumping in at Charlie’s Hole or Dr. Rich Weiss Park. Robinson said the additional stress placed on fish congregating in the deeper, calmer pools makes them more vulnerable to disease and death.

City officials cannot enforce recreational river closures until the maximum water temperatures downtown “exceed 75 degrees for two or more consecutive days, or if dissolved oxygen (D.O.) levels average less than 6.0 mg/l” for the preceding two days.

“Anglers and guides have always been very cooperative in supporting these voluntary closures,” said Sherman Hebein, DOW senior fish biologist. “They have the foresight to understand that these closures are in the best interest of keeping this a world-class fishery for years to come.”

Hebein said the DOW will rescind the voluntary closure as soon as possible – when and if conditions improve.

Precautions for anglers

As summer temperatures rise statewide, Colorado Division of Wildlife officials encourage the following precautions for catch-and-release anglers. Following these steps will minimize the impact on stressed trout populations:

– Do not play the fish to exhaustion. Use as large a tippet as possible in order to land the fish quickly.

– Keep the fish in the water as much as possible when handling and removing the hook.

– Remove the hook gently and do not squeeze the fish or put your fingers in the gills.

– If the fish is hooked deeply, cut the line. Do not attempt to remove the hook.

– Release the fish only after its equilibrium has recovered.

– Release the fish into the most oxygenated water possible.

For more information about the voluntary fishing closure, call the DOW’s Steamboat Springs office at 871-2855.

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