Tubing returns to Yampa | SteamboatToday.com

Tubing returns to Yampa

Voluntary fishing ban in place because of low oxygen levels

Denise Stahmer grabs a rental tube outside of Backdoor Sports in downtown Steamboat Springs on Tuesday before jumping in the Yampa River for a sunny afternoon of tubing.

— Steamboat’s rubber armada is back in business for now, but the fate of commercial tubing is at the mercy of the weather.

Almost as soon as it was put in place July 12, the ban on commercial tubing in the town stretch of the Yampa River was lifted. However, wildlife officials still are asking for the public’s cooperation with a temporary fishing ban on the Yampa inside the city limits.

Randy Hampton of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said low levels of dissolved oxygen in the Yampa where it flows through the city continue to threaten the health of the trout fishery.

“We want to reopen the river, but we’re going to do what’s biologically right,” Hampton said. “The ban is voluntary, but we’ve been getting good compliance.”

City Open Space Supervisor Craig Robinson said a series of rain showers has bumped the flows in the Yampa River back above the minimum threshold for commercial tubing, which is 85 cubic feet per second. At 1:15 p.m. Tuesday, the U.S. Geological Service was reporting the streamflow was 122 cfs, and it has remained above 110 cfs since July 20.

Robinson said, under guidelines described in the city’s Yampa River Management Plan, the city could invoke the tubing moratorium in order to protect the fish. Part of the problem is the tendency for tubers (and others) to swim at manmade water features like Charlie’s Hole.

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“The fish need cool water and they find it in the deepest pools, but that’s where the kids like to swim,” Robinson said. “That causes the fish to spread out again in the shallower water.”

Hampton said current flows meet the DOW’s criteria for lifting the fishing ban, which is that they reach 25 percent of historic flows. The median flow for this date, based on 97 years of record, is 176 cfs and the average flow is 231 cfs.

The problem remains warm water temperatures and a reduction in the dissolved oxygen content.

Fisheries biologist Bill Atkinson is collecting data twice a day, very early in the morning (when oxygen levels are lowest) and again in early evening, Hampton said. He’s finding water temperatures of 78 degrees at the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area upstream from Steamboat and 75 degrees in downtown stretches of the river.

“Preferable would be 74 degrees,” Hampton said. “Dissolved oxygen is about 5.5 parts per million and we need a minimum of 6 parts per million. So for now, the voluntary closure stands.”

John Duty of Bucking Rainbow Outfitters in downtown Steamboat Springs is involved in both tubing rentals and guided trout fishing trips. He said his business didn’t resume renting tubes until two days ago. He said his guides are taking trout fishing clients to the Elk River, the Yampa River tailwater below the Catamount dam and private water on the Yampa near Phippsburg. The upper Yampa in South Routt remains high and cold, he said.

His business will continue to sacrifice tubing in favor of the trout fishery when necessary, he said.

“Being a fishing company, when it was iffy, we just took the tubes off the river,” he said. “If things change, we’ll be right back off the river.”

More rain showers would help the fish and tubing enthusiasts. As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, the National Weather Service in Grand Junction was forecasting a 50 percent chance of heavy rain in Steamboat today and again Thursday.