The big-fish stories can continue on the lower Fryingpan and lower Roaring Fork rivers.
A survey conducted by Colorado Parks and Wildlife last fall determined the rivers still have the quantity and size of fish to retain their distinguished designation as Gold Medal Trout Waters, according to Kendall Bakich, aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife.
“It turned out really well,” Bakich said. “The numbers we’re seeing on the river are similar to what we’ve seen in prior surveys.”
“We just confirmed that it’s Gold Medal,” she added.
A 13-mile stretch of the Fryingpan River from Ruedi Dam to the confluence with the Roaring Fork River is designated Gold Medal Trout Water as well as the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to the confluence with the Colorado River. All told, that’s a 42-mile stretch.
For years, that’s been the longest contiguous stretch of Gold Medal Trout Water in Colorado. But the local rivers lost their title in January, through no fault of their own. It’s now bestowed on a 102-mile stretch of the Upper Arkansas River from near Leadville south to near the Royal Gorge, according to Parks and Wildlife. That stretch of the Arkansas River earned Gold Medal status after years of efforts to restore the fishery, the agency said.
A stream or river qualifies for Gold Medal status when it consistently supports a minimum trout standing stock of at least 60 pounds per acre. It also must support a minimum average of 12 quality trout longer than 14 inches per acre.
Colorado now has 322 miles of Gold Medal Trout Waters after the Upper Arkansas River was added. That boosted the total by 50 percent, according to Parks and Wildlife.
The agency will hold a meeting in Carbondale on March 6 to discuss the status and management of fisheries in the Roaring Fork Basin. The meeting will be held at 5 p.m. at the Garfield County Library at 320 Sopris Ave.
Bakich said the State of the Fisheries meeting will be a great opportunity for anglers, guides, conservationists and operators of businesses that depend on fishing to learn about the condition of the fisheries in the area.
Bakich will go over the results of the most recent surveys in depth at the meeting. One result was a high number of small brown trout on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork rivers, Bakich said. The fish are proliferating but because there are so many of them, most remain under 14 inches long, she said.
“Rivers don’t have a limitless supply of food,” Bakich said.
The best tool to limit the numbers is to harvest them, but anglers have been reluctant to keep the browns, she said. Catch-and-release regulations are in place for rainbow trout, but anglers apply them to brown trout, as well, according to Bakich.
“I think there’s a culture of catch-and-release out there that’s a moral mindset,” she said.
While the Crystal River isn’t known for its rainbow trout population, it has a larger percentage of rainbows among the overall fish population than either the Fryingpan or Roaring Fork, according to Bakich. The Crystal River has erratic flows that limit fish populations. It usually has high flows for a constrained river in the spring and extremely low flows during late summer and fall because of diversions.
The high streamflow has helped keep brown trout populations lower on the Crystal River.
“Brown trout tend to be lazy,” Bakich said. “They like slower water.”
The white fish continues to be a prolific if underappreciated species on the lower Roaring Fork River.
“Everybody wants to catch trout,” Bakich said.
The survey showed evidence of three varieties of native fish on the Roaring Fork River. Roundtail chub were found near the confluence with the Colorado River.
Flannelmouth suckers are found as far upstream as Carbondale, while bluehead suckers are found as high as Basalt, according to Bakich.
“They’ve been declining,” she said. They don’t compete with trout, but their populations are limited by competition with non-native suckers.
The flannelmouth suckers are eye-catching because of their red bellies during spawning season.
“They’re really big suckers. They can grow to 24 inches,” Bakich said.
Bakich said she would get into greater detail on survey results at the State of the Fisheries meeting.
“We’ve got a lot of good information to share,” she said.