Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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I caught a sufficient number of trout Sunday to feed my little neighborhood. But we ate a standing rib roast for Easter dinner instead.
Beef, it’s what’s for dinner.
Trout from the Yampa? Not so much.
Before I launch into my version of an Easter sermon, I want to say that I’m not passing judgment on anyone. I don’t think that anglers who catch and eat trout from stretches of the Yampa where it’s legal, are bad people. I understand the drive to come home from field and stream with something for the table. At least I think I do.
The only point I want to make is that the primary reason the trout fishing was so good on Easter Sunday is that a large portion of anglers in the Yampa Valley are doing their best to release their catch unharmed, back into the river.
Not to push this analogy too far, but for me, the river is a kind of cathedral. And Sunday was a wonderful day for nature worship. After the morning whiteout blew through, the temperature moderated and the lingering clouds were sufficient to kick off a thick midge hatch (along with a few of the little mayflies known as blue-winged olives) and cause the trout to answer the dinner bell. I was in downtown Steamboat Springs, with only two other anglers in sight, and trout were rising all around me.
A startling number of local anglers have caught on to the fact that some of the best fishing on the Yampa is just before runoff, so I was surprised to have a good hole to myself. I guess everyone else was hunting Easter eggs.
How good was the fishing? It was good enough that people walking their dogs stopped on the bank to watch and point out rising trout.
A friend had suggested that I tie a small nymph pattern called a zebra midge to the end of my line, and it met with almost immediate success. The majority of fish I hooked appeared to be small rainbow trout that had been stocked in the river last fall. They were only about 11 inches long and were feeding with abandon, which explained how I was able to catch them. However, a couple of them were feisty enough to leap into the air. And I also caught and released some heftier fish including a 14-inch rainbow and a 15- or 16-inch brown trout. The two largest fish I hooked Sunday refused to come to the net. One spit the hook out shortly after he boiled to the surface. The second, still larger fish tore across the river in the general direction of Clark and popped the fly off my leader. I never saw him.
The sight of one of the larger fish I caught was troubling — it’s back had turned black, possibly from a fungus. I felt guilty about pestering it, and slipped the hook out of the tip of its jaw with as little further disturbance as possible.
I know there are some people that regard my style of trout fishing as being somewhat perverse. Instead of fishing to put food on the table, I torment the trout for a couple of minutes, then release them as if it were all an April Fool’s joke.
“Nevermind dude, I was just messing with you!”
So, here’s the deal.
The Yampa, where it flows through the heart of Steamboat’s commercial district, receives enormous fishing pressure, and it continues to grow. Yet we have a healthy fishery because of catch-and-release regulations that prohibit anglers fishing between Walton Creek upstream and the James Brown Soul Center of the Universe Bridge downstream, from keeping their catch. They are safe from the frying pan.
When thinking about whether or not to eat the fish you catch from stretches of the river where it is legal to put them on the stringer, it’s worth considering that the Yampa is different from the giant bathtub that is Steamboat Lake.
If trout dinners were important to me, I know that I could harvest fish from Steamboat Lake without harming the overall fishery.
The river doesn’t offer the habitat to support unlimited numbers of trout. And every mature fish that is removed subtracts from the fishing experience that all of us share.
It’s something to think about on a gorgeous April afternoon when the trout are lined up at an Easter buffet of their own.
— To reach Tom Ross, call 871-4205 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org