Fate of trout as cloudy as the Pan | AspenTimes.com

Fate of trout as cloudy as the Pan

Janet UrquhartAspen, CO Colorado
Paul Conrad/The Aspen Times

BASALT Local anglers and aquatic biologists are holding their breath and hoping the trout in the Fryingpan River won’t be gasping for breath in the wake of Monday’s massive mudslide, which dumped huge amounts of sediment into one of Colorado’s Gold Medal fisheries.The lower four miles of the Fryingpan, above Basalt, and the Roaring Fork River below its confluence with the Pan are both flowing red after the early morning mudslide in the small Seven Castles Creek drainage, the result of heavy rains that began Sunday evening.Though it’s not uncommon for Seven Castles to blow out the lower Fryingpan after a rainstorm, this week’s event rivals a mudslide in the late 1990s that resulted in a significant fish kill on the lower river.”This is a worse event,” said Rick Lofaro, executive director of the Basalt-based Roaring Fork Conservancy. “This is the worst event that anyone seems to be able to remember.”

The Fryingpan, from Ruedi Reservoir to its confluence with the Roaring Fork in Basalt, as well as the Fork below the Fryingpan, are both Gold Medal fisheries – a Division of Wildlife designation accorded the state’s premier trout waters.There were reports Monday of trout gasping for air in the silty water, Lofaro said, but the Fryingpan showed signs of clearing on Tuesday, and there had been no sign so far of dying trout. The potential exists for a fish kill when fine sediment, suspending in the water, clogs their gills and leaves the fish unable to absorb oxygen, Lofaro explained.Tim Heng, a longtime fishing guide with Taylor Creek Fly Shop in Basalt, voiced optimism Tuesday that the mudslide would not result in a repeat of the fish kill that occurred almost a decade ago, when the shop’s guides were trying to rescue gasping fish from the lower Pan.”We were netting them and putting them in coolers and putting them in the Fork, above the Pan,” Heng recalled. He estimated the staff saved 100 fish that day.

“The way the color of the water is right now – they can survive in this,” Heng said Tuesday. Visibility in the river, which flows right past the shop, was about 6 inches Tuesday morning, he said.”Yesterday [Monday], you couldn’t see an inch,” he said.Lofaro said he planned to contact the Bureau of Reclamation about bumping up releases out of Ruedi to help wash the sediment away, but the long-term impact of the mudslide might depend on the weather. More rain washing more sediment into the river won’t help, said Mark Lacy, a fish biologist with the U.S. Forest Service’s Sopris District office in Carbondale. The potential for a fish die-off definitely exists, he said.

“It all depends on how long it takes to clear,” Lacy said. “There’s definitely going to be short-term impacts for the fishery.”In the immediate vicinity of the mudslide, underwater insects on the river bottom, on which trout feed, were likely buried and small trout were probably lost, as well, he said. On the bright side, Lacy added, brown trout have not yet begun their fall spawn and the juvenile fish that hatched last fall in the gravel have moved out. Eggs and small fry weren’t buried by the layer of sediment that now covers the river bottom.The Fryingpan above its junction with Seven Castles Creek was not affected by the mudslide and was flowing clear on Tuesday.Janet Urquhart’s e-mail address is janet@aspentimes.com