It’s Too Hot And Dry To Fish This 100-Mile Stretch Of The Colorado River

Hart Van Denburg/CPR News
An angler on the Colorado River east of Kremmling.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking people to avoid fishing on the Colorado River between Kremmling and Rifle west of Vail. Water in the 100-mile stretch of river is too low and too warm, and fish are dying, state wildlife officials say.

Ongoing extreme drought conditions on the Western Slope have dried the river’s flows to about half of what’s historically expected this time of year. The low levels mean the water is unusually warm, which is dangerous for trout and other cold-water fish.

“We’ve seen some carcasses around, and we’ve had multiple reports from the public as seeing dead fish. And so it’s time to give the fish a bit of a rest,” said Jon Ewert, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

Parts of western Colorado have been in a drought for the last 20 years. Scientists are calling this a megadrought, which are periods of dryness that last decades. Research shows that global warming accounts for about half of the current megadrought’s severity.

The voluntary restrictions could become a mandatory closure if conditions continue to decline, Ewert said. A couple of weeks of early monsoon rains helped raise river levels, and the cloud cover kept the water from getting as hot. But the forecast doesn’t show much rain in the near future. 

Ewert said a fishing trip to the Western Slope would be an “eye-opener” for those who haven’t visited the area this year because of how bad conditions are. He recommends anglers keep a thermometer in their fishing vest, and if water temperatures are above 65 degrees, it’s a good idea to call it a day.

There is already a mandatory full-day closure on a section of the Yampa River, and the City of Steamboat Springs is considering issuing a commercial closure on the Yampa because of low flows and high temperatures. It would suspend tube rentals and guided fishing on the river through the town completely

Colorado Parks and Wildlife is looking to place a voluntary fishing closure on the Yampa upstream from the Chuck Lewis State Wildlife Area to the west city limits of Steamboat Springs. Biologists are also closely monitoring the Fraser and upper Colorado Rivers in Grand County, another area where temperatures are edging toward dangerous levels for trout.

Water quality has also been hurt by multiple mudslides and flash floods from rain quickly running off burn scars from last year’s wildfires, increasing the amount of sediment in some rivers. Fish get stuck in those murky conditions, and the temperature doesn’t drop down enough at nighttime to give them a break.

“There’s no recovery for those fish right now. They’ve just got to hang on,” said aquatic Biologist Kendall Bakich.