Fish logic |

Fish logic

I am a 25-year resident of the Fryingpan Valley, who has fished the river week in and week out for that entire time.

In the draft environmental assessment, a copy of which I obtained at the meeting with the Bureau of Reclamation, it is stated that the high flows that have been implemented for the past 13 years, when enough water was available, has had “no effect” on the sport fishery and a “beneficial effect” on recreation in the river. I have to disagree with these conclusions.

With regards to the effects on the sport fishery, I and the anglers I know that have fished the river for years agree that the numbers of fish in the sections of river that are open to the public have steadily dropped during the last decade.

I don’t believe this applies to the half-mile below the dam or to the considerable water that has been posted, as fish numbers tend to maximize where there is plenty of food and they migrate to the private water where they don’t get much fishing pressure.

I am sure the DOW is attempting to do a good job of surveying populations, but I believe that there is a built-in bias due to the fact that they check only certain spots year after year, and these places where it is easy to do their stocking surveys tend to be the deeper runs and pools where the fish tend to stack up.

One spot, just above Taylor Creek, used to be open to the public 10 years ago, but has been posted in recent years. If they don’t somehow control their study to allow for this change, it seems to me that this would lead to a significant error if these results were generalized to sections that are open to the public.

It makes sense that if they are going to make conclusions about the effects on recreation in the river, they need to find a way to survey areas where the average Joe is able to access.

Although fish numbers are still high just below the dam and in the “closed” or private water, it seems that fewer fish are moving out into the “public” water to feed on the massive hatches of small mayflies that used to occur in the spring and especially the fall, probably because the hatches simply do not occur like they used to.

Anyone who has fished the river for many years knows this – it is pretty much common knowledge. I know of one hatch that has totally disappeared.

If the food is not there, the fish will not be there to feed on them, especially if it makes them vulnerable to considerable fishing pressure. Although I am not a biologist, it seems to me that the depletion of this once-abundant food source at times of the year when fish are recovering from a long winter or stocking up on calories for the coming one would lead to fewer fish because of less food available at crucial times.

The other significant impact of the high flows on recreation is with regard to the dry-fly fishing. The river has the potential to be one of the best dry-fly streams in the country. But when the flows are up, there are fewer and fewer places that the fish can feed on the surface for the small bugs, as the calories they expend to try to capture them in the fast water is not returned by the food source (the insects), so it is not worth it for them to feed on the surface.

I would call this a definite negative impact on the recreational fishery, as there really are a lot of people who would like to fish this river with dry flies in the spring and the fall, when these hatches occur.

The report also states that “CDOW indicated flows greater than 250 cfs may have the benefit of reducing pressure/impacts to fish due to the reduced number of fishermen wading the river and catching fish.”

Less pressure certainly elevates fish populations, but I will ask the reader if he thinks that allowing less fishermen on the river is a “beneficial effect” on recreation, as the report states? And, although it does not apply to locals, do you think having too much water in the river helps the guides and outfitters, who rely on getting clients to the fish in their endeavors to make a living?

It will become apparent what has happened to the ecology of the lower river below Seven Castles as time progresses. The Bureau did not save anything back for a low-water year, even though the West has been in a drought.

The river down there froze almost solid during the long, cold spells with little snow cover – far more ice than I have ever seen in 25 years. When the river freezes like that, the biologists say it only leaves a very narrow channel for the fish to survive in, and when the huge amounts of anchor ice that occurred break loose, it pulls many of the insects off with it.

In short, I firmly believe that the Draft Environmental Assessment, which will determine the future of the Fryingpan fishery for the next 10 years and maybe beyond, contains a certain amount of inaccurate logic and false conclusions that tend to support the agenda of the Bureau of Reclamation and the plans it has for selling water from Ruedi. And it tends to lull the public into a sense of complacency about the effects on wildlife and recreation on the river.

I believe we are at a turning point with respect to whether this river will ever be managed for the potential to become a truly world-class fishery, as it once was before the high flows were implemented.

So I urge people to take a couple of minutes to fax comments to 970-663-3212, or send a letter to Bureau of Reclamation, attn. Will Tully, Eastern Colorado Area Office, 11056 County Rd. 18E, Loveland, CO.

Or you can e-mail Kara Lamb at, or you can simply call her at 970-962-4326. You must include your name and address, as anonymous comments will not be included in the final EA.

I do not have any financial incentive to do what I am doing. It just happens that the Pan is my “home river” and I hate to see it deteriorate. Please do something. The deadline for comments is April 29.

Steve Custenborder

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