Blue River maintains Gold Medal status
SILVERTHORNE – As an owner of Cutthroat Anglers in Silverthorne, Barry Kirkpatrick relies on the Blue River’s prestigious Gold Medal status to help keep his shop afloat.”It dramatically affects our business,” Kirkpatrick said. “We rely heavily on fishermen coming to the river and (the status) is very important to us.”Billy Atkinson, a biologist with the Colorado Division of Wildlife, said he’s heard swirling rumors that the Gold Medal status is in jeopardy.”Nobody’s looking at removing the Gold Medal status at this point, that’s for sure,” Atkinson said. “No one from the division ever said we’d be lifting it.”Only 13 streams, rivers and lakes in the state have garnered the status, which is awarded to waters with high densities of big fish.The criteria for a body of water to obtain the “Gold Medal” designation includes the presence of at least a dozen 14-inch trout per acre, or 60 pounds of trout an acre.Last October, Atkinson “electrofished” the Blue River just below the Dillon Dam and found 57 trout measuring at least 14 inches and 182 pounds per acre.He counted about 1,100 fish per mile, as opposed to 2,880 trout per mile in 2001, but says the drop isn’t as drastic as it looks on paper.One reason can be traced back to the 2003 Blue River restoration project, which aimed to improve the fish habitat in the stretch of water between the base of the dam to the Interstate 70 overpass at Wildernest Road.Crews deepened and narrowed the river channel and, in turn, slimmed down and lengthened Atkinson’s shocking station where he does his fish counts.
To adjust, he plugged his data from 2001 into the new dimensions and came up with 1,888 fish, a number much closer to recent counts.Even so, he admits the situation hasn’t always been perfect. The drought in 2002, followed by the restoration project in 2003 and low water flows out of the dam are a few of the reasons for lower trout numbers, Atkinson said.Add to that parasitic whirling disease – which prevented fish stocking in the 1990s – the effects of cold water on natural recruitment and “mega loads of cubic yards” of sediment that were dumped into the river when Straight Creek flooded, and smaller fish counts shouldn’t be a surprise.Most importantly, Atkinson reminds people to be patient – it takes the river three to five years to recover from big projects, such as the restoration.”You have to consider that trout don’t want to be swimming around when you have backhoes in the river,” he said. “It’s a mere fact of disturbance and it’s going to take time before you see a significant rebound in the population.”The town of Silverthorne recently secured a $120,000 Fishing is Fun grant that will pay to improve the fish habitat behind 7-Eleven, town hall and a section behind The Ponds subdivision.While these projects are generally positive in the long run, construction activity will likely displace fish, Atkinson said.To help, he is stocking the river as often as possible and recently added 400 rainbow trout that were previously used for spawning at the Glenwood Springs hatchery.Atkinson said he would rather stock with fingerlings, which are more of a wild fish and have better longevity than the hatchery fish, but every little bit makes a difference, especially to Kirkpatrick.”We take what we can get,” Kirkpatrick said.Kirkpatrick has also taken on a proactive role in trying to make the river more attractive to anglers by working with the town to buy additional fish.Although Kirkpatrick says the Gold Medal label is crucial, what’s more important for his business is how accomplished anglers feel at the end of the day.Nicole Formosa can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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