Yampa River closure affects fishing in Steamboat
- Sarvis Creek State Wilderness Area
- Pleasant Valley between Stagecoach and Lake Catamount
- Christina State Wildlife Area on the Elk River
- Steamboat Lake
- Pearl Lake
- Hahns Peak Lake
- Headwaters of the Yampa River
- Chapman Reservoir
- Headwaters of Elk River
- Summit Lake
- Buffalo Pass
- Upper Stillwater Reservoir
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Anglers will have to navigate higher country to catch their trout.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued a voluntary fishing closure on the Yampa River through Steamboat Springs between the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area and the west end of town on Tuesday, July 10.
“Our job is to look out for the resource, we look to mesh all the factors that come into play managing use on river,” Billy Atkinson, aquatic biologist for CPW said. “Voluntary is a tool we use and we’ve had very good compliance, if we don’t get good compliance, we can move to mandatory closure, where we go through the region and director’s office in Denver, so people know state-wide.”
In addition, a mandatory fishing closure on a 6/10-mile section of the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is still in effect from June.
Protecting the fish is a long-term solution. Steamboat’s higher temperatures and low water flow affect the fish’s habitat.
Higher temperatures make oxygen less soluble in water, in addition, water algae and other vegetation grows through photosynthesis. While photosynthesis produces oxygen, the plants will then consume oxygen in the evening through respiration, which is when the colder water should have more dissolved oxygen.
This causes a low average dissolved oxygen level in the river, meaning the fish are under tremendous stress to breathe.
During a drought, the water flow is also less than average, meaning the fish are also competing for space to find that oxygen with the plants. This year, the Yampa has reached a level as low as 14 percent of the state average in water flow.
Trout, which are cold-water dwellers, thrive under higher dissolved oxygen levels.
They can sustain lower oxygen levels during the winter, when the water is trapped by ice. The fish metabolism decreases, but right now, their metabolism is high because it’s foraging season.
In the long term, if fish are under stress during the summer to feed, they won’t store enough fat for the winter to survive, which could affect the amount of catchable fish in the following season.
Adding anglers to the mix only makes matters worse.
“When fish have to swim or chase food or are hooked from an angle or fight the angle or dodging people in the river, moving away from predators, their metabolic rate goes up,” Atkinson said.
“These fish are that stressed, adding more activity, burning up energy reserves, burning up their fat reserves, are not as healthy going into lean times of the winter when not feeding as much.”
Atkinson said there is an abundance of other places to fish including: Sarvis Creek Wilderness Area, Pleasant Valley between Stagecoach Reservoir and Lake Catamount, Christina State Wildlife Area on Elk River, headwaters of the Yampa and Summit, Pearl and Steamboat lakes.
Steamboat Flyfisher owner, Johnny Spillane, also suggests high country areas up Buffalo and Rabbit Ears passes. While the river closure takes a temporary toll on business, Spillane said the long-term health of the river is more important.
“Certainly short term it’s going to have a negative impact on us,” Spillane said. “But what we’re doing right now is helping people learn about all the cool places in Steamboat they can go fishing.”
CPW regional Public Information Director Mike Porras said it’s good for recreational fishermen and hunters to consider the environment before going out.
“Wildlife issues, everything from hunting to wildlife conservation of our natural resources, certainly are a big part of western Colorado.”
Steamboat experienced a record drought in 2002, and several similar river closures in 2012, 2013, 2016 and 2017. The last high water year was 2011.
“It’s variable, you get into these drought cycles and work out of it for a couple of years,” Atkinson said. “So we may have a turn for better conditions for couple years. Sure seems things are changing, couple years now of lower snowpack and subsequently more and more drought conditions.”
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