Steamboat Springs Anglers who haven't been able to fish their home waters for most of July have been cleared to go back in the water.
Fisheries biologist Kevin Rogers of the Colorado Division of Wildlife said Tuesday the voluntary fishing ban on a section of the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir has been lifted. However, the ban remains in place below the Chuck Lewis Wildlife Area all the way through the city of Steamboat Springs to the confluence of the Elk River.
Rogers said lifting the ban was made possible because managers of the reservoir are currently releasing 50 cubic feet of water per second to meet the needs of the Hayden Power Plant downstream. Previously, only about 15 to 20 cfs was being released from the reservoir. That wasn't enough to ensure the trout wouldn't be overly stressed by angling pressure, Rogers said.
"Fifty cfs is a good amount of water for that stream and the water coming out of the dam is pretty cool," Rogers said. "It's a prized resource and has an unbelievable density of trout for a river that size."
In Steamboat, the river looks better thanks to the additional water, Rogers said. But in this case, appearances are deceiving; the water remains too warm to revive the trout.
Rogers estimates there are 2,000 adult rainbow trout in one-third of a mile of public access to the river. There is also public fishing downstream where Service Creek enters the Yampa.
Rogers is hoping anglers won't love the rainbows below Stagecoach to death now that the voluntary ban has been lifted.
"That's a huge concern," he acknowledged. "There's going to be a lot of pressure up there. I do expect it to be a zoo and the fish will get beat up."
However, Rogers said time has shown the big rainbows below Stagecoach can withstand being caught repeatedly. And the trout are there for recreation.
"My job is to protect the river for biological reasons," he said.
Water temperature was the key to removing the fishing ban below Stagecoach, and that explains why it remains in place within the Steamboat city limits. Colder water contains higher levels of dissolved oxygen; warmer water contains less oxygen.
"The water in town is still reaching 80 degrees in the afternoon," Rogers said. The result is dissolved oxygen content of about 4.5 parts per million. If the dissolved oxygen content dipped to 4 ppm, it could prove lethal to trout.
Rogers praised Phil Eggleston and John Fetcher of the Upper Yampa Conservancy District for releasing extra water from the reservoir earlier this summer to protect the spawning beds in the river below Stagecoach. He said they are obligated only to release an amount of water equivalent to what is coming into the reservoir at its upper end.
At one point this summer, just 7 cfs was coming into the reservoir. That wasn't enough time to cover critical gravel beds where the rainbows successfully spawn in wetter years. Eggleston and Fetcher decided to continue to release 17 cfs, enough to keep the spawning beds underwater, Rogers said.
He anticipates "recruitment" or survival of the trout fingerling won't be as high this year, but some of this year's juveniles will make it through.
The DOW deliberately made the fishing bans voluntary and Rogers said he continues to be impressed with the level of compliance among sportsmen and sportswomen.