Voluntary fishing closures go into effect on Fraser, Colorado and Eagle rivers until further notice

John LaConte
Vail Daily

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking anglers to voluntarily avoid fishing on the Fraser, Colorado, and Eagle rivers from noon until 11:59 p.m. daily until further notice.

Warm water temperatures have depleted oxygen levels and left fish vulnerable, causing fish to die in local waterways.

“When water temperatures exceed 70 degrees, fish often stop feeding and become more susceptible to disease,” Colorado Parks and Wildlife reported in a release issued Thursday, July 14. “Warm temperatures and low water levels can also lead to algae blooms in rivers and reservoirs which cause oxygen levels to drop when algae die and decompose.”

The watershed council forecast predicts the Upper Colorado River from State Bridge to Catamount will hit 70 degrees on Friday. A full-day closure is also in effect there, from State Bridge to Bair Ranch in Glenwood Canyon.

Water temperature recordings from Thursday, July 14, 2022.
Eagle River Watershed Council/Courtesy image

Dead fish reported

The Colorado River District, on Friday, said it is receiving reports of struggling and dying fish.

The Upper Colorado recorded temperatures of 72 degrees on Thursday at several recording stations including Catamount and Dotsero in Eagle County.

On Friday morning the district began releasing an additional 50 cubic feet-per-second from Wolford Mountain Reservoir, with plans to continue through Sunday, providing another 300 acre-feet of water for the river by Monday morning.

“Limited West Slope water supplies will inhibit the River District’s ability to fully address temperature and flow issues, however,” the district said in a release issued Friday.

The district also released water from Wolford Mountain Reservoir last weekend, generating approximately 200 acre-feet of water.

“Our constituents are seeing fish floating by belly-up and struggling to survive current hot temperatures,” said Brendon Langenhuizen, the River District’s Director of Technical Advocacy. “We’ve also received reports of dead fish along the riverbanks … Our District has and will continue to do our part with voluntary releases when water is available from our limited resources at Wolford Mountain Reservoir.”

Action needed on Front Range

The Colorado River District pointed out that this marks the second consecutive year in which low flows and high water temperatures have created critical conditions on the Upper Colorado.

“Since the beginning of July, these new-normal conditions are having major impacts on the Upper Colorado River ecosystem,” Langenhuizen said. “Colorado Parks & Wildlife’s fishing closures are symptomatic of a larger issue that needs the attention of all water users.”

The river district said more action is needed, urging Front Range water providers to act in partnership with West Slope water users to protect the health of the Upper Colorado River.

“We can’t fix this situation alone,” Langenhuizen stated. “Our constituents are asking for help to address the river’s unhealthy conditions causing fish kills. They’re wondering why large Front Range providers are not reducing their transmountain diversions to join the River District in aiding Colorado’s namesake river and the livelihoods it supports.”

Water temperature predictions for Friday, July 15, 2022, based on a predictive model developed by Lotic Hydrological.
Eagle River Watershed Council/Courtesy image

‘Don’t play or fight’

Numerous rivers are facing similar conditions. The following voluntary closures are underway:

  • Fraser River from the County Road 8 bridge crossing at Fraser downstream to the confluence with the Colorado River near Granby
  • Colorado River from the confluence with the Fraser River near Granby downstream to the confluence with the Williams Fork River at Parshall
  • Colorado River from the Colorado Highway 9 bridge crossing at Kremmling downstream to State Bridge
  • Eagle River from the Eagle County Fairgrounds at Eagle to the confluence with the Colorado River at Dotsero

“When temperatures reach concern levels ( > 65°F) don’t play or fight fish. Unhook and return them quickly to the water,” the watershed council said in its forecast.

These voluntary closures will remain in effect until further notice, with a possibility of a mandatory emergency closure to all fishing if conditions worsen or angler compliance becomes problematic.

“We know that anglers care deeply about these cold-water trout fisheries,” said Parks and Wildlife NW Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “We need their help to conserve these resources and that’s why we’re asking anglers to carefully consider the water and weather conditions when they go fishing. If water seems too warm or fish appear lethargic, it would be best to call it a day or find another fishing opportunity at higher elevations.”

Martin also urged anglers to add a hand-held thermometer to their fishing kits so they can test the waters they intend to fish.

“Anglers can monitor water temperatures on their own and stop fishing when water temperatures start to approach 70 degrees,” she said.

Other suggestions include using heavier tippet and line to quickly reel in and release the fish, always wetting your hands before handling a fish, and to keep the fish submerged while unhooking and releasing it. Avoid taking the fish out of the water even for a quick photo in these conditions.

“Get out early to avoid the higher water temperatures commonly seen in the afternoon and evening,” Martin said. “Anglers are also encouraged to seek out high-elevation lakes and streams, where water temperatures are more suitable and fishing doesn’t potentially add additional stress.”

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