Portion of Blue River stripped of top fishing designation
March 30, 2016
Summit County streams are losing a bit of their shine.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) announced last week that a 19-mile stretch of the Blue River has lost its Gold Medal status. CPW biologists say that the stretch of river from the town of Silverthorne's northern edge to Green Mountain Reservoir no longer merits its elevated standing among Colorado's waterways.
Gold Medal designation is reserved for Colorado's waterways that produce a minimum of 60 pounds of trout per acre and 12 trout 14 inches or longer per acre. This segment of the Blue River was, according to officials, no longer measuring up.
"It's a truth in advertising thing, and in order to maintain that integrity it needed to be removed off that section," said Jon Ewert, CPW aquatic biologist overseeing Summit and Grand counties. "This Gold Medal designation is a prestigious designation that should apply to the most productive trout rivers in the state, and it should be reserved for just that."
On top of that, this area of the Blue River had not met the standards for the title for 15 years. The first time CPW conducted a fish population estimate where the totals fell short was 2001, and they have not improved to the necessary levels since that time.
It's been in approximately that same timespan that Silverthorne has invested more than $700,000 into habitat improvements on the Blue River. Still, as opposed to other top fishing areas, the Blue River has any number of limiting factors and challenges that reduce the potential for trout growth.
As one example, the ideal temperature range for trout feeding and development is between 54 and 64 degrees Fahrenheit, and the Dillon Reservoir is so deep that water at the bottom stays below 50 degrees year-round. That creates narrower windows of time for trout to grow, as little as just a few weeks depending on the year. In more traditional settings, standard growing seasons can last as long as three months, from July following runoff, through September when the water begins to get colder again.
Of the many elements here that may be causing these smaller trout numbers, another, perhaps less scientific, influence is lower nutrient levels in the water. That is, fewer insects in the river for trout to consume.
"The bread and butter of the trout diet is aquatic insects in rivers," said Ewert. "A lot of observations from people who have been around here for decades suggest that insect hatches are not at all what they used to be. I don't know the reason for that, and it is anecdotal, but what is not anecdotal is the fish population is also not what it used to be."
low numbers, low impact
The delisting of the river caught some local fisherman by surprise, even if they also recognize some of the same obstacles for trout in the regional waterway.
"I was a little bit shocked that they would do that," said Kory Lewis, a fishing guide at Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne for four years. "We go down there and catch 25-inch fish down there regularly. I think they should have done a little more research before deciding to (change the designation)."
Lewis agreed that a combination of circumstances contribute to why CPW might change this portion of the Blue River's status, including colder-than-ideal temperatures, which are likewise impacting bug hatches. But he also believed fish populations are appearing smaller than they might actually be, because after years of certain sections near the town being over-fished, the trout have gotten smarter and are now hanging in areas, often private waters, where fewer people have access and CPW might do less testing.
In addition, the town gets stocked with fish, whereas north of city limits does not, offering the perception of smaller trout totals in the section now being downgraded — even if, Lewis added, the fish that do get caught there are usually quite large. In other words, the trout there often meet the bag limit of 16 inches, meaning licensed anglers may keep two per day with only artificial flies and lures. Fish caught from Dillon Dam downstream to the north town limits of Silverthorne and from Green Mountain Reservoir dam downstream to the Colorado River, however, are catch-and-release.
Lewis said he and other locals would continue to fish in the 19-mile section that lost its Gold Medal status and that he did not imagine the change impacting business much, if at all.
"People coming through, those new faces that come into town, they'll notice that water is no longer Gold Medal, and recognize it," he said. "If they want Gold Medal they'll end up fishing in town, not north of it. But I can guarantee we still will be."
Fellow fish guide Timothy Suplee, of Frisco's Trouts Fly Fishing (former Blue River Anglers), also didn't believe the demotion of that segment of the river would have much effect on business.
"The Blue River certainly has an incredible reputation and attracts people worldwide to fish," said Suplee, who headed out shortly thereafter to fish on the Blue River yesterday afternoon. "It has some amazing stretches depending on where you are, and I don't see a large impact for a personal guide shop."
In announcing the Blue River section's loss of status, CPW also assigned Gold Medal designation, after eight years of research, for a 24-mile section of the Colorado River from the confluence with Canyon Creek at the mouth of Gore Canyon, downstream to the confluence of Rock Creek near the town of McCoy. The goal, ultimately, is to get this section of the Blue back to the preferred tag.
"We've known for a while that the Blue, on that section, has been struggling with issues of productivity in the fishery," said Ewert. "It just has not been rebounding at all; it's just at this low level that it's been staying at.
"The Gold Medal designation is just wording that appears in our brochures," he added. "There's still fishing to be had on that section of the Blue. Hopefully, it focuses a little attention on that stretch and (more) resources, so we can work together and try to get those trends in an upward direction."