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‘It’s time to give trout a break’

Voluntary afternoon fishing closure placed on lower Roaring Fork River

A couple raft down the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale on Friday, July 23, 2021. A voluntary fishing closure for afternoons starts Saturday for the reach between Carbondale and Glenwood Springs. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Climbing temperatures and falling stream flows have spurred Colorado Parks and Wildlife to place a voluntary fishing closure during afternoons on the lower Roaring Fork River starting Saturday.

Anglers are being asked to avoid afternoon fishing on the 25-mile reach from the bridge at Highway 133 in Carbondale to the Colorado River.

In addition, CPW placed the voluntary afternoon closure on the Eagle River from Wolcott to the Colorado River, a 13-mile stretch.



“Both rivers have been exceeding 71 degrees Fahrenheit consistently for the last several days and isolated rain showers haven’t provided much relief,” CPW aquatic biologist Kendall Bakich said in a statement.

A sunny day on the Roaring Fork River in Carbondale on Friday, July 23, 2021. (Kelsey Brunner/The Aspen Times)

Anglers have reported that some sport fish are dying off in those reaches, she said. Mudslides affecting the Crystal River have also muddied waters of the Roaring Fork River, which contributes stress to fish.


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The voluntary closure was applauded by Roaring Fork Conservancy executive director Rick Lofaro due to the exceptionally dire conditions. The Basalt-based conservancy tracks temperatures in the local rivers and streams. Temperatures on multiple days this summer have exceeded 68 degrees, which is a danger point for fish and other aquatic life, he said.

“Temperatures are high because flows are so low,” Lofaro said.

The Roaring Fork River at Glenwood Springs is currently flowing at 656 cubic feet per second or only about 40 percent of the average flow of 1,650 cfs, according to the conservancy.

While the closure is voluntary, Lofaro said he suspects it will have the backing of many outfitting firms. They realize it is for the long-term benefit of the fishery and river ecosystem, he said.

The conservancy wants to get the word of the closure out to private parties, as well, to gain the highest rate of compliance possible.

In normal circumstances, or at least what used to be normal, the high elevation snowpack would still be releasing cold runoff into streams that feed the rivers. That would keep temperatures lower and flows higher, allowing trout to hang in deep pools, behind rocks and in other favorable hiding places. The low flows eliminate the resting spots. In addition, hotter water has less oxygen so fish struggle to recover from activity, such as getting hooked by an angler.

“It’s time to give trout a break,” Lofaro said.

This is the third year out of four that western Colorado has faced drought, so Lofaro has concerns about the river systems. Trout are dying in Montana and California because of similar situations, according to Lofaro.

“It’s a problem throughout the West,” he said.

Conditions are so bad on the Yampa River in northwest Colorado that CPW enacted a mandatory, full-day closure. Voluntary closures are already in place on parts of the Colorado River.

“The nice thing about a voluntary closure is it can start and stop once conditions improve much more quickly than a mandatory closure,” Lofaro said.

The reach of the Roaring Fork River between Basalt and Carbondale wasn’t included in the voluntary closure because water temperatures have been cooler thanks to releases from Ruedi Reservoir. Water in the reservoir is typically around 42 to 44 degrees. It is released into the Fryingpan River, which feeds the Roaring Fork River.

Even before CPW announced the voluntary closure for afternoons, many outfitters made the “ethical decision” to launch earlier in the morning and “reel ‘em in” by 2 p.m., according to Lofaro. Water temperatures usually peak in late afternoon and into evening, roughly 4:30 to 7 p.m., he said. Water is slow to warm and also slow to release heat.

Lofaro stressed there is “still fishing to be had” on the Roaring Fork between Aspen and Carbondale, the Fryingpan and higher terrain streams and lakes.

CPW lists fishing closures at https://docs.google.com/document/d/e/2PACX-1vTCyNM4dgkEYGLpKTmcZnKjmveF1uSQeUnH0X6uaykYai3o4Z4dPql5nv4NRhKNIc5HQ7s5HAxr86hI/pub.

scondon@aspentimes.com


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