Tom Ross' column appears in Steamboat Today. Contact him at 970-871-4205 or tross@SteamboatToday.com.
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Steamboat Springs We make reservations for dinner and reserve our hotel rooms on the Internet. When we travel, we wouldn’t think of showing up at the rental car counter without a reservation. Why not reserve a fishing spot?
The question is, how many fly-fishermen would be happy if they had to make a reservation for their favorite trout stream?
That’s a concept that the managers of Stagecoach Lake State Park are exploring as they seek to protect a short stretch of the Yampa River where it issues from Stagecoach Dam.
The first six-tenths of a mile of the river below the dam are within the park, and this little piece of angling heaven has grown a big reputation for producing large rainbow trout in significant numbers. At times during the past decade, the rainbow trout there have even spawned successfully.
If there is a problem, it’s that this stretch of the river, known as a tailwater because it flows from the dam, is too popular for its own good.
“There are concerns of overcrowding in the spring when the tailwaters are one of the only fishable (rivers) in Routt County,” Park Manager Craig Preston told the Yampa Valley Fly Fishers chapter of Trout Unlimited this week. “It’s not uncommon to have 30 to 40 anglers on the river at a given time in the spring.”
Preston and his staff, led by Senior Ranger Kathleen Fischer, are nearing the end of a survey to find out how the fishermen who frequent the Stagecoach tailwaters feel about the resource and the crowding.
“We want to know what the public’s perception of fishing in the area and crowding on the river is,” Fischer said. “We also want to see if there is public support for a reservation or lottery system.”
About 35 percent of those surveyed rated the experience “excellent.” Only 10 percent have said they were “extremely concerned” with perceived crowding, but most agreed that use needs to be limited on weekend days.
Park and fishery managers are concerned that the short piece of the Yampa itself is suffering from its own popularity.
The peak popularity of the Stagecoach tailwaters, when stretches of Northwest Colorado’s rivers that aren’t controlled by dams are too discolored and high to fish, coincides with trout spawning time.
They are worried that eager anglers are walking through the reeds at the most sensitive times. And there’s ample evidence that the riverbanks are being damaged by the heavy use. A rehabilitation project starts in the spring.
In the best interests of a precious fishery, it may be time for anglers to make a reservation.
After all, the fishing below Stagecoach is special.
“Almost everyone is catching fish,” Fischer said. “Those we surveyed who hadn’t caught fish maybe hadn’t been there for very long.”
To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email tross@SteamboatToday.com