Steamboat Springs Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist Billy Atkinson said this week that he’s not yet ready to lift a voluntary ban on fishing in the town stretch of the Yampa River.
The ban was put in place June 20 and is intended to protect trout during a period of low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.
Just back in his office from the Flat Tops Wilderness Area after four days of research in the field, Atkinson said a high priority is consulting with reservoir managers on the upper Yampa River to gather information about their plans to release water in the near term.
“As I’ve always said, and even with all this rain we’ve had lately, I want to see a week straight of improved dissolved oxygen levels and a good weather forecast” before contemplating a lifting of the ban, Atkinson said.
The voluntary fishing ban was imposed by Parks and Wildlife in conjunction with a city ban on tubing when the river dropped below 85 cubic feet per second. It is in effect from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area upstream from Steamboat and downstream all the way to the city’s western limits.
The ban has been tough on local fly-fishing shops and guide services, but Jeff Ruff, of Steamboat Flyfisher, said local professionals are continuing to support it.
“Everyone agrees that if this ban were lifted, the sheer number of people that would pound (the river) would be detrimental to the fish,” Ruff said. “We’re just dealing with it. The worst thing that could happen is if the ban were lifted and that was followed by two weeks of 94-degree weather and we had to start all over.”
Steamboat received 0.16 inches of rain Monday afternoon and 0.4 inches as recently as Saturday. The Yampa was flowing at 109 cfs under the Fifth Street Bridge at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday and at 129 cfs below the confluence with Soda Creek.
Generous July rain has made the river look better than it did in June, but conditions still are threatening the health of the fish, Atkinson said.
The amount of dissolved oxygen in the river fluctuates during a 24-hour period but varies directly with water temperature. Atkinson’s colleagues found late-afternoon water temperature readings of 73 and 74 degrees last week, an improvement over the week before when the water temperature was as high as 78 degrees. Recent temperatures still are unfavorable for trout, which are considered a cold-water species.
Ruff said he is aware that some privately controlled ranches outside the fishing ban area are allowing one or two anglers per day on the Yampa, but only before noon. And they also are observing days when there is no fishing, he said.
Ruff said one of the most difficult aspects of the fishing ban is explaining it many times each day to eager visitors who want to fish in town or someplace nearby. Eligible streams like the Elk River at the Christina State Wildlife Area and Sarvis Creek are experiencing heavy pressure as a result of the ban.
“The Yampa has become such a wonderful venue for families,” Ruff said. “That’s why people love it.”
If there’s a bright side, Ruff said, it’s that after more than two months without the trout enduring any fishing pressure, autumn should draw anglers from far and wide.
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com