Basalt’s reputationlooking more golden |

Basalt’s reputationlooking more golden

Scott Condon
Officers with the Colorado Division of Wildlife go "electrofishing," shocking the Roaring Fork River then scooping up the stunned trout with nets. The fish were weighed and measured before they were released. Photo courtesy Colorado Division of Wildlife.

Basalt’s national reputation as a trout-fishing mecca is likely to be even stronger by next spring.The Colorado Division of Wildlife is sampling the population and size of trout in the Roaring Fork River between its confluence with the Fryingpan and its confluence with the Crystal to see if it warrants classification as a “gold medal fishery.”To earn that lofty distinction, a river must produce 12 trout of 14 inches or more per surface acre of water and 60 pounds of trout per surface acre. The Fryingpan River below Ruedi already has the distinction, as does the Roaring Fork from Carbondale to Glenwood Springs.Alan Czenkusch, an aquatic biologist for the wildlife division, said he believes research will prove that the 13-mile stretch of the Roaring Fork River between Basalt and Carbondale also deserves the distinction.If it does, that would make a continuous, 42-mile stretch of gold medal rivers on the Fryingpan and Roaring Fork – between Ruedi dam and Glenwood – that has gold medal status.”It would be the biggest hunk of gold medal in the state – by a long shot,” Czenkusch said.Currently, less than 175 miles of Colorado’s more than 9,000 miles of trout streams hold gold medal designation.

Anglers’ sweet dreamTo test the Roaring Fork stretch’s worthiness, 13 wildlife officers from the Roaring Fork Valley and elsewhere in the region went “electrofishing” on the river with four rafts yesterday.Two of the boats had workers continuously throwing out what looked like pitchforks hooked to lines that were connected to motors. Those electrical systems gave out precisely measured shocks that stunned the trout and whitefish.The fish, temporarily paralyzed, floated to or near the top and were scooped up by other wildlife officers with nets on the end of 8-foot poles. Usually a toss of the electric pitchfork would produce a fish or two, but one particular hole was home for a dozen or more trout. (The precise location of that hole will remain secret.)The captives were placed in holding tanks on the rafts. When those tanks were full, the officers on the other rafts would go to a bank and use netting to set up small holding pens in the river. The fish would be transferred into the pen, then scooped up in the nets, placed in buckets and individually weighed, measured and marked.Anglers’ sweet dreams are made of sights like this. A dozen or more trout, usually mixed in with a few mammoth whitefish, would flop around in each scoopful. They were handled with loving care by the wildlife officers while they were quickly sized, then they were placed back in buckets, hauled back upstream and dumped back in the river. A punch was used to make a hole in the tails of captured fish so wildlife officers would know if they are caught again in future samples.The trout showed no hangover from the electroshock treatment but some of the whitefish appeared stunned even after the trout recovered. Wildlife officers noted that the whitefish, regarded as a trash fish by some anglers, are more sensitive to the electrofishing for reasons they couldn’t explain.Czenkusch acknowledged that some of the whitefish may die, but the sensitive electrical systems used for the operation are calibrated to stun most of the fish for only five to 10 seconds.

A big fish storyRoughly 75 percent of the captured trout were browns while the remainder were rainbows, which are stocked in the river.Nearly all the trout came in at greater than 13 inches and between 1 and 2 pounds. One of the biggest catches was an 18-inch lunker of a rainbow weighing in at more than 2 pounds.”The numbers of fish and the size of the ones we were seeing looked real good,” said Pat Tucker, regional manager for the DOW.The crew concentrated on two one-mile stretches for the sampling, one between the Basalt sanitation plant and the lower Highway 82 Basalt bypass bridge, and another starting at Ranch at Roaring Fork.The same stretches will be sampled again today to gather accurate data.Czenkusch said the Roaring Fork between Basalt and Carbondale was last sampled 10 years ago, but the data wasn’t analyzed for gold medal fishery eligibility.

If it gains the distinction, Czenkusch said he expects even greater numbers of anglers will be attracted to the Basalt area.Tim Heng, manager of Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, said fishermen “in the know” already regard the Roaring Fork River from Basalt to Carbondale as gold medal waters, even if it isn’t official.The only reason that stretch isn’t as popular as the Fryingpan or the lower Roaring Fork is there’s more private property, so access is limited, and floating it requires more technical skills, according to Heng.He agreed with Czenkusch that designation of that stretch as gold medal could make Basalt an even bigger destination in the trout fishing world.”We’re looking at a great stretch of water, not only in Colorado but anywhere in the country,” Heng said.The wildlife division will analyze data from the sampling this month. Results will be given to the wildlife commission for review, which will decide whether or not to grant the gold medal designation to that stretch. The process could theoretically be complete by next spring, according to wildlife officers.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is