Tom Ross' column appears Tuesdays and Saturdays in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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I released some chunky brown trout back into the Yampa River on two different days last week. But that doesn't mean I didn't come home with a full stringer.
Calm down. I'm not advocating illegally killing trout from the beloved town stretch of the Yampa. In fact, I can't recall the last time I cleaned a fish. But I did come home with my limit of sandal fish (salmonidae flippus-floppus) during the weekend.
If your spouse has grown suspicious throughout the years because you frequently go fishing but never come home with the proof, you understand how important it is not to come home completely empty-handed.
The rivers, the Yampa and Elk, are in the best August condition we've seen them in a very long time. The flows are above average for the date, and the water is cool - just the way trout need it. But if you've walked the banks of the town stretch lately, you've noticed a disturbing amount of trash.
In two fishing excursions within the past four days, I picked up eight plastic water bottles, a nearly full bottle of Ocean Potion anti-aging sunblock (I just might keep it and use it) a discarded swimming pool air mattress, a plastic vodka bottle with about five shots left in it, a golf shirt, a pair of "Pugs" sunglasses, a baseball (who knows, maybe it's a Barry Bonds home run ball), the cardboard residue from a 24 pack of Budweiser in bottles and a pound of potato salad still in its deli container.
An acquaintance suggested to me that if you probed the C-hole with a diving mask, you probably could even come up with a handful of lost cell phones.
The most common piece of litter on the riverbank right now is the plastic water bottle. Because they are typically half full with the cap in place, it's easy to infer that the original owner did not mean to trash the river. But the net result still is the same.
Ranking right behind the ubiquitous water bottle is footwear. Most often, these lost shoes are the common flip-flop. But it's not unheard of to find an expensive gym shoe. The choicest hunting grounds for sandals are in the rock wings where boulders were placed in the current at angles. The intent was to concentrate the current tin one deep run in the middle of the river. The unintended result was that the rock wings trap lost sandals.
Once they slip off the foot of a tuber floating the river on a gorgeous Steamboat afternoon, they ultimately wedge between two rocks and are only revealed when the river begins to drop. You'll never ever find a matching pair of sandals in the river, only useless chunks of foam and plastic straps.
I want to be careful to say that I'm not passing myself, or any other fisherman, off as being holier than floaters. I acknowledge that floating the Yampa in an inflatable tube is an idyllic way to spend a summer afternoon. And I know that anglers leave litter behind themselves. I've unintentionally allowed bright foam strike indicators to escape and float down the river. And I seem to recall losing several pairs of cheap sunglasses while floating the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon in March 2007.
The commercial tubing operators have several things figured out that all river users could adopt. When they rent footwear, the outfitters typically supply neoprene booties by NRS or another company that specializes in quality river equipment. The booties won't come off a tuber's feet, no matter how wild the rapid.
Private tubers should consider investing in a pair of quality river sandals such as those made by Chaco, Teva and Keen. In time, the higher initial price of the quality footwear will pay for itself.
The outfitters also impress upon their clients the need to avoid littering. At least a couple of times a year, they organize trash pickup days, as they should.
That may not be enough this year. All of us who enjoy the riverbank during the past couple of weeks of summer should consider bringing along a trash bag. The many hundreds of tubers who enjoyed the Yampa this summer may have come from all across America, but it's our river to protect, isn't it?
I found ample evidence last week that the trout are prospering in spite of the remarkable volume of private tubers this season. If you care to find the big fish I released last week, they still are holding in quiet runs near the bank, out of the main current.
One of them lives upstream from downtown Steamboat and the other is hanging out on the downstream side of town.
Even if you don't hook a 20-inch brown, you always can come home with a stringer full of salmonidae flippus-floppus.
To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205
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