EDWARDS, Colorado - If you're a rafter or kayaker, you've seen better years on the Eagle River. If you fish, low streamflows are an early-season bonanza.
Representatives of the valley's floating and fishing businesses spoke at a recent State of the River meeting at Berry Creek Middle School and told substantially different stories.
John Mark Seelig, of Lakota Guides, told the sizable audience in the school's auditorium that the rafting business has seen "incredible highs to dramatic lows" over the past decade. According to a state industry group, last year was one of the best ever for rafting companies in the state, with more than 508,000 people booking trips of some sort. Those people represented about $150 million in revenue.
Seelig said last year was a remarkable year for runoff and stream flows. When the water drops, so do reservations. In the last bad drought year, 2002, business was off nearly 40 percent from the year before, Seelig said, adding he expects a similar drop this season.
While there won't be much in the way of whitewater this year, Seelig said streamflows could allow rafting companies to introduce more people to rafting thanks to calmer waters.
Those calmer, clearer early-season waters have people like John Packer excited about the season.
Packer, owner of Fly Fishing Outfitters, said his industry's experience is the complete opposite of rafting. Last year was a tough one for fishing guides, he said, because the rivers ran so full, fast and murky for so long.
Business has been brisk so far this year, Packer said, the best since 2002, in fact. But streams that fish fairly easily have a downside, too.
"We have to look after our people, but the resource is my priority," Packer said.
The problem, Packer said, is that trout start to have trouble recovering from fishing pressure when water temperatures stay above 65 to 70 degrees for long periods.
"This year, we're going to be more proactive," Packer said. That means asking people to fish earlier or later in the day instead of during mid-day's heat. Being proactive also means balancing business with protecting the resource.
"We're not going to tell people not to fish` but when and where to fish," Packer said.
If education doesn't work, state wildlife officials can impose fishing restrictions.
Kendall Bakich, Colorado Parks and Wildlife's aquatic biologist for this region, said state officials can close streams to fishing if voluntary measures don't ease pressure on fish populations.
Packer said he and his company will try to protect what we have.
"I've got to look out for our little guys in the river," he said.
Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@