Drought is hard on habitats, and last summer was particularly stressful for a group of San Juan residents who are rarely seen yet highly sought after: prized cold-water fish, including trout rainbow and brown trout.
“We had a whole bunch of closures last year” of fishing areas, until the fall, recalled Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) spokesman John Livingston, “until the air temperature drops.
There are far fewer closures this summer, but there is at least one mandatory one in place: In early June, CPW implemented an emergency closure on a 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River near of Steamboat Springs, due to low flows. (The same heavily fished section was closed from late May 2021 through November.)
Closer to Telluride, “We’re asking people not to fish a four-mile section of Tomichi Creek,” in the state wildlife preserve of the same name east of Gunnison, Livingston said. The voluntary restriction, which came into effect a week and a half ago, is due to the water temperature reaching 71 degrees. “We ask people not to fish it after noon,” Livingston said. “Temperatures start to rise when the sun is on the water, and it can be quite stressful for fish to fight to get caught.”
“I mostly fish at higher elevations where the waters are cooler” and are a bit easier for clients to traverse, said Goose, who has guided for 26 years in Alaska and Colorado, among other places, and is a co-owner of Telluride Flyfishers. “These afternoon storms have been a pretty big lifesaver,” when it comes to helping cool the water, he said. “I don’t even focus on the San Miguel River until the 4th of July.”
The onset of the monsoon has helped local fish, Livingston said: “The rains have increased flows and cooled the waters. As soon as we put in place a voluntary closure we will monitor it and as the monsoon continues we will work to reverse these closures. Fingers crossed for more monsoon rains.
Experts say the best way to protect fish from hot temperatures is simple: don’t go out in the afternoon when temperatures soar.
“It’s easy to watch,” Goose said. “I have a temperature gauge with me,” but the bottom line is, “if you put your hand in the water and your hand isn’t cold, it’s time to start thinking about not fishing. When the water temperature is high, there is less oxygen in the water. Fish have to work harder to catch their breath after expending all that energy” while fighting. Once you release them, “they’ll swim like nothing happened,” he added, “but then they suffocate: it would be like having to breathe through a plastic bag.” We want to focus on morning fishing, landing them and releasing them, smoothly.
A fishing tournament is coming soon: Earlier this week, CPW announced the return of the eighth annual Smallmouth Bass Classic to Ridgway Reservoir, starting July 16 at 7:00 a.m.
“We used to have a draw; this year we tagged some bars,” Livingston said. “One of them has a $5,000 tag. It could be a good fish.
The tournament is open to ages 16 and up. A fishing license is required to participate; contest ends September 3 at 6 p.m.