Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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The sight of fly fishermen clad in bulky waders waddling past the Ann Taylor and Jones of New York fashion stores in Silverthorne on Sunday was a little surreal. But the anglers were hooking trout, and I guess the shoppers were netting bargains.
For the uninitiated, allow me to explain. A gold-medal fishing stretch of the Blue River just below Dillon Reservoir flows right through the middle of the factory outlet stores in Silverthorne. I've always wanted to survey the anglers to see whether their spouses were shopping nearby.
It's certainly not a pristine Rocky Mountain fishing experience, but the size and number of fish make up for the ambience. And in early May 2008, fisher-dudes don't have many options. Lakes still are mostly covered with ice, and rivers are murky with low-level runoff.
Back at the outlet malls, shoppers clutching brightly colored plastic bags often stand on a pedestrian bridge and watch the anglers intent on their fly lines.
People who are more devoted to fishing than shopping often can spot trout in the water while spectating from the bridge. But decorum demands that you refrain from advising the fishermen to take two steps downstream and lengthen their casts by 26 inches. Kibitzing might diminish the quality of the factory fishing experience.
Some of you might be thinking, "What was Tom Ross doing shopping in Silverthorne?"
If you insist, I was purchasing a dark gray suit to wear to a college graduation later this month. I figure that's a pretty good alibi - I checked around, but it's difficult to buy a men's suit off the rack in Steamboat.
Of course, I'd rather have gone fishing. It's just that the opportunities are limited in Routt and neighboring counties right now. The fly shops tell me that Stagecoach and Steamboat Lake reservoirs are just beginning to show a little water at the inlets. On the other side of the Park Range, in North Park, the trio of Delaney Buttes lakes is more than a week away from thawing.
All of that ice is putting a lot of pressure on a short section of the Yampa River just below Stagecoach Reservoir.
Like the Factory Outlets reach of the Blue, the Stagecoach stretch is a tailwater. That means it always runs clear and cold where it pours out of the base of a dam. Fishing always is good, but right now, I'm told the Stagecoach Tailwater is so crowded that anglers are coming back to the fly shops and voicing their frustrations.
The Stagecoach Tailwater measures just six-tenths of a river mile.
What many anglers may not know about Stagecoach is that the tailwater is in crisis mode, and many of the big trout being caught and released this spring are brood stock. Colorado Division of Wildlife Fisheries Biologist Bill Atkinson located some mature trout that were nearing the end of their productive breeding lives at fish hatcheries and planted them in the tailwater.
In previous years, that had not been necessary. Rainbow trout reproduced in that tiny stretch of the Yampa, and different age classes of trout flourished there.
"Now, I'm basically trying to re-build the fishery," Atkinson said. "We're seeing a substantial decline in recruitment (of juvenile trout). It's taking place at very, very low levels - not enough to sustain a population."
The culprit in the decline of the Stagecoach Tailwater is whirling disease, introduced by fish moving upstream from the disease hotspot just downstream at Sarvis Creek. The disease is caused by microscopic parasites that attack the central nervous system of juvenile rainbow trout.
Atkinson has fenced off the spawning redds in the tailwater this spring. And he's working with other fisheries biologists to determine whether a hybrid version of the whirling disease-resistant Hofer rainbows could prosper in the Yampa below Stagecoach Reservoir. If he's able to find young trout in August, he'll cross his fingers and hope they make it through winter.
Fishing season is coming to the Yampa River this summer. It just might arrive a little late.
And be glad we don't have to fish at the shopping mall.