Salomone: It’s getting hot, hot, hot
Vail Valley Anglers
We are looking at an abnormally warm summer in Colorado. Hot weather and the lack of precipitation has placed our beloved mountains and streams in a danger zone. Wildfires have broken out and are threatening one of our local state parks. And the rivers are on the rise as far as water temperatures go. We are getting hot, hot, hot.
The river gauge in Kremmling on the Upper Colorado River on June 21 surpassed the forbidden 71 degrees Fahrenheit that Colorado Parks and Wildlife designates as a crucial index number for emergency water closure. While river temperatures have dropped since then, Colorado Parks and Wildlife staffers are keeping a close eye on the gauge. Stream flows below 50% of the daily average, low dissolved oxygen and visibly deteriorating fishing conditions are other criteria for placing emergency closures by the Parks and Wildlife officials.
While meeting just one of the criteria is not going to result in a closure, what is more likely to happen is a “voluntary closure,” where CPW asks anglers to focus their fishing efforts on the cooler periods of the day.
Has anyone ever heard of the Montana Hoot Owl rule? All fishing is closed daily at 2 p.m. til midnight. The theory being that all Catch and Release fish are returned to the water during the coolest time of day in hopes of decreasing CnR mortality.
Trout are cold water fish and therefore require water that maintains body temperature, dissolved oxygen and minimal stream levels. When these factors diminish, so do the chances for recovery and survival in released fish.
While brown trout can withstand slightly warmer water than rainbow trout, both have their ideal temperatures. Feeding temperatures on the warm end of the spectrum fall between 52-65 degrees Fahrenheit. Survival temperatures occur in the 65-70 F. And the “Death Zone” temperature for trout is above 73 F. Carrying a stream thermometer of any type is going to help you determine safe, ethical fishing temperatures.
What are some choices an angler can make to help preserve our local fishinery? Fishing stillwaters like lakes, reservoirs and ponds is a great alternative to the local rivers. Going up in elevation and targeting High Country trout is a beautifully rewarding type of angling.
If anglers must fish our local rivers, a few bits of professional advice will direct you towards success while maintaining the health of our beloved fishery. The window for ethical opportunity falls onto the morning hours.
Done by noon is a good personal gauge for all anglers. Targeting shaded waters can create cooler opportunities. Riffles and faster water will increase the amount of dissolved oxygen in the river giving trout a better chance for recovery after the release.
Over lining your terminal gear will help to decrease the amount of time it takes to land a caught fish. Longer fights take an extended amount of time for trout to recover in low oxygen, high temperature water. Keep all caught fish in the water.
Using a net helps increase the survival rate of CnR trout and can significantly decrease the time a fish is fighting on the line. Safe handling in high water temperatures means no handling.
Conditions are lining up to present some difficult angling decisions. How each individual angler addresses those decisions is a personal choice. Choosing alternatives to our local rivers is one approach. Altering your angling hours is another. Using thought, ethics and temperature for determining how and where you fish will help to maintain the longevity of our local fishery. And unless conditions change, things are going to get hot.
Michael Salomone moved to the Eagle River valley in 1992. He began guiding fly-fishing professionally in 2002. His freelance writing has been published in numerous magazines and websites including; Southwest Fly Fishing, Fly Rod & Reel, Eastern Fly Fishing, On the Fly mag, FlyLords, the Pointing Dog Journal, Upland Almanac, the Echo website, Vail Valley Anglers and more. He lives on the bank of the Eagle River with his wife, Lori; two daughters, Emily and Ella; and a brace of yellow labrador retrievers.