Steamboat Springs Patient trout fishermen have been cleared to go back in the water.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife will lift its voluntary ban on fishing in the Steamboat Springs section of the Yampa River Friday.
The stretch runs from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area upstream from the southern city limits, through town to the confluence of the Elk River. The ban was put in place July 6 because the river was nearing record low levels and threatening the health of its trout.
Steamboat's commercial tubing companies also voluntarily stopped using the river.
DOW fisheries biologist Kevin Rogers said he believes the resident trout population in the town stretch of the Yampa have now defied the odds and survived the worst of this summer's drought conditions.
Although he says there has been some pressure to lift the ban, the decision was made based on biology.
"Our (dissolved oxygen) levels are better than they were, and our stream temperatures are better than they were," Rogers said. "The problem is, we can't predict the future. The big wild card is river flows. I am concerned that flows will deteriorate in the future."
Water temperature is a key indication of how much dissolved oxygen the river contains. Rogers said river temperatures are no longer reaching the upper 70s and low 80s as they did earlier this summer.
And it is reasonable to anticipate that increasingly cold night temperatures will bode well for the trout.
However, September and October weather patterns can swing between snow squalls and intense high-pressure systems that last for weeks without precipitation.
Anglers who care about the fate of the trout will still need to use good judgment, Rogers said. However, given current conditions, they don't need to be overly concerned about the impact fishing pressure will have on the trout.
Tri-State Generation, which operates the power plant in Craig,is currently calling on stored water it owns in Stagecoach Reservoir, and that is pumping an additional 32 cubic feet per second down the river, Rogers said.
Later in the fall, stream flows could depend more directly on precipitation.
At 9 a.m. Wednesday, the Yampa at the Fifth Street Bridge was a trout-friendly 61 degrees after peaking at about 72 degrees the day before. Stream flows the past week have ranged between a daily low of about 35 cfs to peaks of 55 or 60 cfs in the early morning.
Rogers believes the cooperation of the fishing public in observing the voluntary ban this summer helped get the trout in Steamboat through the drought.
"I'm certain we'd have had some real problems if we hadn't closed it," Rogers said. "We lost a few whitefish, but that was the extent of it."
He said it's unlikely the ban would go back into place if conditions worsen this fall.