Welcome back to Trout Week. Today is World River’s Day, and we’ll be bringing you river-themed content all day. Speaking of rivers, Colorado’s Gold Medal waters are known by many. Quite simply, they are the most productive trout waters in the state–and some of the best in the country–that are accessible to the public. However, conserving and maintaining these waters for the future offers new challenges, which Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Gold Coalition seeks to overcome. TU’s Colorado Gold Coalition includes brands like NRS, Fishpond, Airflo, RepYourWater, and Abel and Ross Reels.
Colorado’s Gold Medal program is a state project, managed by the Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW). Currently, the program recognizes 11 bodies of water throughout the state, totaling 322 miles. These waters include: four miles on the Animas River, 27 on the Gunnison, and Gore Creek. While CPW has managed these waters effectively for decades, there’s no reason they should be the only voice for conservation, especially as Colorado’s population and tourism industry both face similar explosions.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife does an incredible job of managing our fisheries,” said Trout Unlimited’s Colorado Coordinator, Scott Willoughby. “But our rivers, lakes, and fish are seeing more pressure than ever before and our Gold Medal trout waters are on the front lines, facing the cumulative impacts of climate change, development, dewatering and seasonal overcrowding.”
The Blue River in Summit County, CO, serves a perfect example. The Blue River between Dillon and Green Mountain Reservoirs is a storied high-elevation tailwater with close access to Colorado’s Front Range and is a significant contributor to the $36,000,000+ local fishing economy. The river, however, experienced a significant decline and lost its Gold Medal designation in 2016 due to a variety of factors. Development, increased pressures, and changing stream conditions appear to be the likely culprits. Currently, scientists and local patterns are working to better understand these issues, but they need support.
The Blue to Gold Campaign is an offshoot of TU’s Gold Medal Program to restore the Blue River’s beauty and productivity. The campaign is a partnership between TU and The Blue River Watershed Group, which seeks “to promote, protect, and restore a healthy Blue River watershed through cooperative community education, stewardship, and resource management.”
Part of this program is to discover science-based explanations for the Blue River’s downfall. To that end, the Blue River Integrated Watershed Management Plan (IWMP) has already invested $250,000 during the first phase in 2019-2020. The groups are working to secure funding for the final stage of research needed to identify the problems with the fishery. They’re looking for $25,000 in independent contributions to fully leverage the $185,000 in state and local funding. Full funding will support essential studies, including seasonal macro-invertebrate and periphyton sampling, as well as an assessment of stream flow and channel morphology.
What’s happening on the Blue River is happening on other premier, Colorado rivers. Scott highlighted several others: “We’ve seen the impacts of abandoned mines and wildfire
on the Gold Medal waters of the Animas near Durango, watched portions of the upper
Colorado struggle for decades as we work to build a bypass around the Windy Gap reservoir and reconnect the river channel atop a Gold Medal reach, and see resort-town streams like Gore Creek in Vail listed as both “impaired” and “Gold Medal” by the state.”
Arguably, Colorado sports one of the strongest fly fishing pedigrees in the country. Unless the state, its anglers, and advocates protect and enhance that heritage, however, it may be lost. Strengthening protections for Gold Medal waters, restoring de-listed waters, and expanding quality trout habitat will help safeguard more Colorado fisheries while redistributing pressure on a currently limited resource.
“Gold Medal designations set the standard for high quality trout fisheries across Colorado,” said David Nickum, Executive Director of Colorado Trout Unlimited. “By strengthening the protections surrounding Gold Medal waters, bringing declining fisheries back up to capacity, and recognizing other deserving rivers and lakes among Colorado’s signature trout waters, we can help CPW broaden the scope and raise the standards for trout fisheries statewide.”
The Colorado Gold Coalition is working to establish a direct connection between anglers and the waters they fish, embedding conservation ethics into the message. But they need your support. Head over to ColoradoGoldMedalWater.TU.org today to join the movement and learn more about Gold Medal waters.
A Great Way to Get Involved
Go to an Angry James Brewery dealer and Pick up the Rain, Sleet, and Hail Pale Ale.
Angry James Brewery and Cutthroat Anglers own Jacob Lutz created the Rain, Sleet, and Hail Pale Ale as an ode to the three mountain peaks in the Gore Range that feed into the Blue River Watershed. $1 from each beer sold will be donated to the Blue River Integrated Watershed Management Plan.
Cover picture courtesy of Josh Duplechian, TU.