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Dead fish found in Blue River

BRECKENRIDGE – Children playing in the Blue River near the Riverwalk in Breckenridge Monday counted more than a dozen dead brown trout, most likely the victims of low water and oxygen levels in the river due to this year’s drought.

According to Tom Kroening, district wildlife manager for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, an additional four dead brown trout were found in the Lower Blue River below Dillon Dam late last week. He found three near the Riverwalk Tuesday; all were about a year old and 8 to 9 inches long. Brown trout typically grow 16 to 18 inches in that stretch of the Blue River, Kroening said.

“We’re not sure exactly what’s going on, although we expect it’s drought related,” he said. “It’s most likely going to be due to low water levels, possibly higher water temperatures and low oxygen levels. Our aquatic biologist said he was amazed fish were still in there.”



Scott Hummer, water commissioner for the Upper Blue Basin, agrees.

“It’s something I’ve seen in more than one place where the stream is too shallow or too warm,” he said. “And it’s starting to happen up here.”



Scientists need to have about 20 fish to determine what might have killed them, so for now, Kroening can only guess. Other than high water temperatures and low-water flows, fish can die from such things as stress from being caught too many times, stress from being released incorrectly and fungi. It’s also possible the number of people helping in the Rubber Duck Race Saturday contributed to some of the stress the dry season has already dealt the fish.

“That probably didn’t help,” he said. “They’ve been under all this stress, and then to have all that going on.”

The town of Breckenridge pays a private hatchery to stock the Upper Blue River with rainbow and brown trout each year, he said. Brook trout found in the river typically come in from side streams.

The Division of Wildlife this year didn’t stock the Upper Blue River with the 400 to 500 fish it usually does.

“We thought with the low-water conditions in the Blue River, we’d basically kill them,” Kroening said. “We looked at it and said, if we continue (through the summer) with no water … let’s skip it this time.”

Instead, the agency placed more fish in the Lower Blue River and Dillon Reservoir. And anglers have been reeling them in.

“Things have been going pretty well,” Kroening said. “Fishermen are seeing them; they’re catching them. It’s a tough season because people aren’t fishing the (Dillon) reservoir as much; it’s more of a walk to get there. And we’ve seen a decline in last few weeks in the number of people fishing. But in real numbers, we haven’t suffered like a lot of counties have.”

He plans to monitor the Upper Blue River to make sure the dead fish aren’t indicative of something larger.

“It’s not too big of a deal,” Kroening said. “We’re not too concerned, but we are watching it. Hopefully this isn’t an indication that something else is going on.”

Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or jstebbins@summitdaily.com.


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