Blue River sweet spot about to suffer? | AspenTimes.com

Blue River sweet spot about to suffer?

Duffy Hayes

The Blue River flows through a pristine canyon below Green Mountain Reservoir, where brown and rainbow trout are rumored to be abundant. (Brad Odekirk/Summit Daily News)

SUMMIT COUNTY – Tucked into the very northwest corner of Summit County, off the beaten path and previously hidden from public view, the Blue River has carved something spectacular.

Below the Green Mountain Dam, rock cathedrals reach for the sky, wildlife walks through pristine meadows and brisk waters eddy into some of the deepest, best fishing holes found anywhere in the state.

But only a handful of people have ever mustered the hardy inclination – or the proper permission – to actually see the spectacular scene for themselves.

Some time next year, permission to access the canyon won’t be an issue anymore. Today, access to the area – about 3 miles of pristine canyonlands below Green Mountain Dam – is privately held by the sprawling Blue Valley Ranch. But as part of an impending land trade that took years to negotiate, this wild and scenic stretch is set to become public property.

“This is a real treasure. This area’s been untouched and undisturbed for eons,” explained Chuck Obermeyer, a Front Range fly fisherman who has passionately advocated for protection of the area, before it falls into public hands.

“If you do the exchange and you just trash it, what was the purpose?” Obermeyer rhetorically asked.

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Obermeyer is one of the lucky few who has fished the remote area. He’s cozied up to Blue Valley Ranch owners and gained permission to access the canyon – the easiest way in today is by private access – and he has fished there for 30 years, he claims.

But he is concerned. In the past year, Obermeyer has aggressively advocated that state and local officials become proactive in efforts to protect not only the wild lands, but to preserve the thriving fishery, as well.

He’s written hundreds of letters – literally. He’s engaged local politicians. He’s presented the research behind his advocacy at multiple county commissioners meetings. His passion at times, however, can be overbearing, and he has turned off some of the decision makers with his brusque approach.

But despite acting like a real bull in a china shop, his method seems to be working – at least with the Colorado Division Of Wildlife. After a series of letters and meetings, Obermeyer was able to get the group to commit to some testing and analysis of the previously unstudied fishery there – the CDOW launched a two-day electroshocking effort to collect fishery data earlier this month.

“What they finally came to recognize is that this is new water that we’re getting as part of the exchange,” Obermeyer said. “If we don’t protect it … it’ll be too late.”

Tonight, in nearby Fraser, the DOW will host one of its semi-regular meetings, an Angler Roundtable, at which the agency will present data to the public gleaned from its initial study of fish in the canyon.

There will be another meeting Wednesday night in Kremmling.

“If all goes as we’ve planned, and we get a good estimate, then I would think that we’ll have enough information to at least make a best recommendation to the public as to what will adequately protect the resource,” said Sherm Hebein, senior aquatic biologist with the DOW’s Northwest Region. Hebein led the electro-fishing study earlier this month in the canyon.

If the DOW’s data reflects a thriving fishery in need of protection, the agency could recommend a number of things. Most likely would be a recommendation for catch-and-release regulations, which the division has enacted to protect thriving fisheries all over the state.

“(Catch-and-release) is probably one of the best regulations that we have,” Hebein said, before adding that there are many different tools that the DOW could consider in terms of protections.

Dave Nickum, executive director of the Colorado office of the influential Trout Unlimited advocacy group, said that Green Mountain Canyon might be a good candidate for catch-and-release, if the data supports it.

“You’ve got an area that for whatever reason has not been subjected to the kind of pressure that it may be subject to in the future. There’s a real risk that it could get fished out if heavy pressure materializes with harvest of those fish.”

He added, speaking generally: “Trout Unlimited supports catch-and-release. We think it’s a way of maintaining the quality of fisheries. It’s not needed on every water, but in places where you’re looking at significant pressure, it can be a great tool for maintaining the kind of world class fisheries that people think of with Colorado.”

Getting the CDOW to implement new fishing regulations has been a major push by Obermeyer.

“I think that it’s not only possible, but probable,” he said. “But I need people to show up at the Angler Roundtables, and say, ‘Yes, we support catch-and-release fishing regulations.’ … The problem is, nobody knows about [the canyon].”

Without the new regulations, Obermeyer paints a bleak picture of what the canyon could become after the public gains limited access to the area.

In an Aug. 19 letter directed to Hebein, Obermeyer made some dire predictions:

“The canyon will attract 50 to 100 anglers per day from the nearby metro areas and out-of-state visitors. If each angler bagged 2 16-inch trout/angler/day during a six-month fishing season, 18,000 to 36,000 wild brown trout 16-inches and over would be bagged annually. This would wipe out all the large brown trout in the first season, after eons of protection by isolation.”

As to the land exchange itself, despite lingering concerns among fishermen about losing access to some other incredible spots along the Blue that currently run through the Blue Valley Ranch, it is pretty much a done deal. It’s expected to be finalized late next year.

That said, fishing regulations are really one of three legs to the stool that Obermeyer is advocating to protect the pristine area. He’s put forward a second leg: the idea of making the area surrounding the canyon a county-managed wildlife park ” an idea not totally lost on Summit County commissioners.

He’s also battling for a comprehensive management plan to be created for the canyon – one that not only limits the amount of fishermen in the area, but one that reins in whitewater enthusiasts sure to flock to the area once public access is improved.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife is hosting an Angler Roundtable meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 29 in Fraser, at Fraser Town Hall (153 Fraser Ave.) from 6 to 9 p.m.

An Angler Roundtable is also planned Wednesday, Aug. 30, from 6-9 p.m., at the Grand County Fairgrounds Extension Hall in Kremmling.

The DOW will present data from testing in the Green Mountain Canyon, land set to be turned over to the public next year that is currently unregulated.

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