Fishing options abound in Routt County |

Fishing options abound in Routt County

A couple days of rain haven't done much to raise the tides for Yampa River anglers. Instead, they've been casting into plenty of other area bodies of water, including the Elk River. Much of that river is private and leased to local guide shops. A long section near the Mad Creek trailhead, however, is open to public fishing.

They aren't all huge, or even big, but the fish on the Elk River are biting and healthy.Joel Reichenberger

— The week's rain seemed to bring about a sigh so deep and loud in drought-stricken Steamboat Springs that it could have been audible from space. But the welcome change in weather didn't change much for Routt County anglers.

Even as a deluge pounded Steamboat on Friday afternoon, local officials and fishermen acknowledged that a return of fishing on the Yampa River is at least a week away, but also that the potential return of the Yampa doesn't mean much when it comes to finding good fishing waters.

Sure, it'd be nice to once again have access to the Yampa's trout-abundant water, they said. But there is lots of fishable water elsewhere in Routt County, and this abnormal season has helped remind them of as much.

"There are plenty of spots you can still fish," Straightline Sports guide Jed Collins said. "I've been guiding in the valley 18 years and I've seen everything, back and forth, the peaks and valleys. For me, when I have a client and they're smiling at the end of a trip, it's always a win-win situation."

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The consensus from the city's fish hounds: There are plenty of places to draw out those smiles.

Yampa down, out for now

Even among the area's diehard anglers, few keep a closer eye on the Yampa and other waters than Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist Billy Atkinson. He said re-opening the Yampa for fishing is not imminent, even though flows picked up enough Friday to reinstate tubing.

"We want to make sure we have good conditions for a week and a good, favorable forecast on top of that," he said.

The problem for the fish has never been simply the river's lack of flow. Rather, it's been a combination of rising water temperatures and a decreasing amount of oxygen in the river. Together, those conditions stress fish. They very well may bite a fly dangled in front of them, and even fight back, but they won't likely survive their haul out in a net and their eventual return to the water.

The conditions don't allow them to get rid of lactic acid built up in their bodies, and the end result isn't pretty. It doesn't get better overnight, either, no matter how much it rains.

"It's like if you had the flu or pneumonia," Atkinson said. "You will start feeling better, but it takes you time to build energy reserves. You won't go mountain bike a hard 10-mile loop two days after you get out of bed from the flu. You build up again to that. These fish haven't been feeding optimally. Giving them time will allow them to build up a little, to spread out more and set up in feeding areas when the conditions improve."

Atkinson wasn't ready to speculate just when those conditions would truly qualify as "improved." He said the recent spike in river flow — the cubic feet per second more than doubled from Thursday to Friday after dropping to a truly listless rate of 42 cfs late last month — has many causes. Much of the water has come from additional water released from Stagecoach Reservoir and Lake Catamount. Some of it has to do with area ranchers closing their irrigation ditches to get on with haying season.

Even if the weather changes, the other factors may not. The dams may close and the irrigation ditches may reopen.

Plenty of options

But that doesn't mean there's bad fishing. Be sure to be comfortable before asking advice on where to go.

"Certainly the lakes, the high mountain lakes, are always a good place to get into and fish," Atkinson said. "The upper Elk River system — the north, south and middle forks — are all good and there's a lot of camping up there and those streams are in good shape temperature-wise. The Yampa between Stagecoach and Catamount, there are three sections of public access there — right below the dam, Sarvis Creek and the BLM section — that are open right now."

He went on: the Christina State Wildlife Area on the Elk River near the Mad Creek trailhead is a popular spot and was teaming with anglers Friday. He suggested King Solomon Creek, the north fork of the Little Snake River beyond Steamboat Lake, as well as Gilpin, Mica and Gold Creek lakes in North Routt County.

Atkinson pointed to Crosho Lake, Allen Basin Reservoir, Bear Lake and Stillwater Reservoir in the southern end of the county.

It doesn't exactly amount to a list of "anything but the main stretches of the Yampa," but it's close.

Fishing takes optimism, and in one of the strangest seasons anyone can remember, most good fishermen don't have to look far to find it.

"This time of year, we're usually not fishing the downtown section anyway because there are always so many people using it," Steamboat Flyfisher owner Tim Kirkpatrick said.

He said his shop has stayed busy recently, casting fishermen all across the county to the still-cool streams and lakes.

"This isn't putting a cramp on our style," he said. "It doesn't help when the Denver news sources report 'Steamboat is closed for recreational activity.' That's not true. We are open for business. We are not hurting the fish. We're going to where the (water) temperatures are good. Everyone is good."

To reach Joel Reichenberger, call 970-871-4253 or email

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