Earlier this year, the Upper Arkansas River became the newest addition to the state’s list of Gold Medal trout waters, but the title has many anglers asking whether fishing regulations have changed.
However, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release, fishing regulations in the Upper Arkansas were not changed after the river’s status changed. Designating waters as Gold Medal does not automatically place them under restrictive regulations, but anglers need to be aware of previous regulations on some upper sections of the river.
“Regulations are often used as a tool to help maintain quality in a fishery, but they are not automatically applied if they are not necessary, as is the case of the Arkansas River,” said Greg Policky, aquatic biologist for Parks and Wildlife, in the release.
The Gold Medal reach is 102 miles long and stretches from the confluence with the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River, near Leadville, downstream to Parkdale at the U.S. Highway 50 bridge crossing above Royal Gorge. The Arkansas increased Colorado’s Gold Medal river miles to 322. The single segment of the Arkansas accounts for almost one-third of the state’s total.
Gold Medal waters are the highest quality cold-water habitat in Colorado and must meet certain criteria to receive the designation by Parks and Wildlife.
Gold Medal waters are defined as any river or lake producing a standing stock of at least 60 pounds of trout per acre, and at least 12 trout that are 14 inches long or longer per acre on a sustained basis. River segments designated as Gold Medal must be at least 2 miles in length. Lakes must be a minimum of 50 acres in size.
Jared Hawn, a guide at Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, said the Gold Medal designation comes after several decades of habitat restoration by Parks and Wildlife, Western State University, local conservation groups and federal and state agencies. During the last couple of seasons, Hawn said, he’s seen not only more robust insect hatches, but also a steadily increasing variety of bugs in the system.
“We’re starting to see good caddis and stonefly hatches, and a lot of green drakes and PMDs,” Hawn said. “They’re (Parks and Wildlife) even starting to put in salmon flies near Big Bend.”
Hawn credited the Gold Medal designation to the conscious efforts of anglers to improve the fishery. A recent Parks and Wildlife angler survey confirmed that 95 percent of the trout caught by thousands of anglers each year are released back into the river voluntarily.
Anglers, however, can be a secretive bunch — much like skiers and snowboarders who guard their favorite stashes from the masses. It’s not uncommon for the character of a stretch of water to change after receiving Gold Medal honors.
Hawn isn’t worried about the Arkansas, though, saying its steadily improving fishery has never been a secret given that it also happens to be the country’s most commercially rafted river.
“The Arkansas during the summer is not unlike Vail on a powder day, but rafters tend to focus on Brown’s Canyon,” Hawn said. “You’re still going to run into boats, but there are plenty of places to avoid the splash and giggle traffic.”
Some sections of the Arkansas popular with anglers are the “Milk Run,” near Johnson Village, and a stretch at “Stone Bridge,” near Salida. Local groups also did a great job in an area known as “Hayden Meadows,” Hawn said.
“They put a lot of effort in stream restoration and improving the habitat at Hayden Meadows and it really took hold in a short period of time,” he said. “It’s a great walk and wade area, but it’s also a great spot for beginner or novice anglers. They built a pond there where you can knock off the rust or have your ego stroked a little bit before casting into moving water, which is just a stone’s throw away.”
Statewide regulations regarding bag and possession limits apply to most of the river, the release stated. Statewide limits for trout — including brook, brown, cutbow, cutthroat, golden, lake, rainbow, splake and tiger — are four per day and up to eight total in an angler’s possession.
Some special regulations for the very upper reaches in the Hayden Meadows area and for a 7-mile reach below Salida. Those regulations were in place prior to the Gold Medal designation and have not changed, the release stated.