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NEW PARTNERSHIPS PAY OFF TO "SAVE THE FRASER"

DROP IT LIKE IT'S HOT A LOOK INSIDE LANDON MAYER'S NEW SECOND EDITION

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FALL 2019 VOLUME 16 • ISSUE 4

MAGAZINE CONTENTS 06

DROP IT LIKE IT’S HOT

12

A LETTER FROM THE PRESIDENT

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22

30

34

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High Country Angler • Fall 2019

BY LANDON MAYER BY CAM CHANDLER

NEW PARTNERSHIPS PAY OFF TO “SAVE THE FRASER” BY COLORADO TU STAFF

MY FAVORITE WESTERN STILLWATERS BY BRIAN LA RUE

FISHING FOR PURPOSE BY DREW ALLMAN

PEACE AND PERSPECTIVE BY HAYDEN MELLSOP

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HCA Staff P U B LISHER S

J ac k Tallo n & Frank M ar tin

C O NTENT C ONSU LTANT L ando n M ayer

EDITO R IAL

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AN INSIDER'S GUIDE TO CATCHING CUTBOW TROUT

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PARTNERS SAVING ABRAMS CREEK CUTTIES

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48

50

54

60

62

68

78

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BY PETER STITCHER

BY COLORADO TU STAFF

Frank M ar t i n, M anagi ng Editor f rank@ hc am agaz ine.co m Landon Mayer, Editorial Consultant Ruthie Mar tin, Editor

ADV ER TISING

BY MARK EDDY AND KIRK KLANCKE

B r i an L a R ue, S ales & M a r keting b r ian@ hc am agaz i ne.co m D i rec t : ( 714) 944- 5676 K andily n M ar t i n, Ad S ales k andi ly n@ hc am agaz ine.com Cell: ( 719) 432- 8317 M ar k Shulm an, Ad S ales Cell: ( 303) 668- 2591 m ar k@ hc am agaz i ne.co m

FLY FISHING YOUTH CAMP CLASS OF 2019

DESIG N

THE HIDDEN MILE BY MARK SEATON

KEEPING A RIVER ALIVE BY CARY DENISON

HEADWATERS RIVER JOURNEY BY BARBARA LUNEAU

FIT TO BE TIED

David M ar tin, Creative Direc tor & Graphic D esigner aisthetadesign.com

THE CUTTHROAT COLLABORATION

P HOTO G RAP HY

BY JOEL EVANS BY DAN OMASTA

A WILD & SCENIC PARTNERSHIP FOR THE SOUTH PLATTE BY COLORADO TU STAFF

Frank Martin, Landon Mayer, Brian LaRue, Angus Drummond

STAF F WRITER S

Frank Martin, Landon Mayer, Brian LaRue, Joel Evans, David Nickum, John Nickum, Peter Stitcher

STREAM MANAGEMENT PLANS BY COLORADO TU STAFF

THE LAST CAST

Copyright 2017, High Country Angler, a division of High Country Publications, LLC. All rights reserved. Reprinting of any content or photos without expressed written consent of publisher is prohibited. Published four (4) times per year.

BY DR. JOHN NICKUM

To add your shop or business to our distribution list, contact Frank Martin at frank@hcamagazine.com. D i str i buted by H i gh Countr y Publi cati ons, L LC 730 Popes Valley D r i ve Colorad o Spr i ngs, Colorad o 809 1 9 FA X 719-593-0040 Published in cooperation with Colorado Trout Unlimited 1536 Wynkoop Street, Suite 320 Denver, CO 80202 www.coloradotu.org

ON THE COVER:

Annie Smith (CTU Communications Manager), picturing George Bryant – President of The Greenbacks group – and is on the Fraser River.

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Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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Drop it Like it's Hot

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by Landon Mayer

High Country Angler • Fall 2019

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S

ight Fishing for Trout is one of the most exciting ways to fly fish! Witnessing trout sipping or aggressively taking an adult off the waters’ surface, leaving a ring that marks the spot that you need to drift to from above, is, for me at least, the ultimate thrill. The great news is that you can still achieve the same eye-catching fun just below the waters’ surface, seeing the take. I believe that trout prefer to look up to feed a majority of the time, and have formulated a strategy to take advantage of this. The following tips inspired by my new book, Sight Fishing for Trout Second Edition are proven tactics that can lead to great results for the fast-approaching colder seasons of fall and winter.

Sink A Dry One of the best ways to fish dry flies is to watch the trout’s feeding behavior, the behavior of the food drifting dead or alive, and the movement of the water in which they are rising. Riseforms are not the same for every

insect. You can watch a trout perform five different rise forms in sequence, one after another, to insects drifting downstream. A great solution when trying to figure out what the trout prefers, or to the challenge of trying to compete with your fly being selected over all the naturals, is to Sink It! This can trigger a smaller feeding frenzy that you witnessed on the surface, but the beauty is that it will last below the surface well into the afternoon. To fish this stage of the food chain, I refer back to a comment I heard during my second year of guiding that made me laugh, but surprisingly holds true every day on the water: “The difference between a good and great angler is one split shot.” Well, when the going gets tough and you’re in doubt, drift the dry below the surface, knowing the fish does not have to be exposed to any predators from above. Add one micro shot above the triple surgeons knot, match with a small clear thingamabobber, or white foam tab indicator, and dead drift or swing the flies though the pods of feeding fish; then, hold on. To present, I use a steeple cast, in which the rod stops high on the backcast (at one o’clock), allowing the small amount of line, leader, and tippet to unroll and straighten out. Then, on the forward casting stroke, I direct the fly line, leader, tippet, and flies at a 45-degree angle toward the water’s surface. Apply some force when you are forward casting at this angle, so that the leader, tippet, and flies can straighten out: at this short distance there is not enough fly line to load the rod. When using dry flies or flies with no weight, imagine punching the rod toward the water’s surface. This straightens the leader, tippet, and flies before they land on the water, minimizing the surface disturbance.


Float a Nymph One variation of emerger is a floating nymph pattern. Since nymphs and emergers are such a familiar food source, when one is floating in the surface film, trout can’t help but eat it. Trout feed on them because they don’t have to break the water’s surface, leaving them less visible to predators from above. Most takes to a floating nymph will fly. When I see bulging rises, it’s time to try a floating nymph. Manufacturers sell special floating nymph patterns, but I usually just grease the tippet with fly floatant from the bend of the hook of the main fly all the way down to one inch shy of the nymph. That keeps the tippet material buoyant and floating on the surface, while the nymph remains in the film (or slightly below) in front of a regular, un-weighted nymph. For instance, if Blue Winged Olives are the main food source on the water’s surface, then I trail a BWO nymph below an imitation of an adult on top of the

water’s surface. Match the nymph or pupating stage of the adult insect that the trout is consuming. For the windier fall months, I use a sidearm cast that resembles the same principles as the conventional casting stroke. The rod should stop in front of you at 10 or 11 o’clock, and behind you at 1 or 2 o’clock. One of the biggest challenges an angler has when performing a sidearm false cast is ticking the water on the forward or back casting stoke, often putting a whole pod of feeding trout down. Compensate by giving your leader and line more distance from the water’s surface at the end of each casting stroke. Keep the rod tip traveling on a straight path in the middle of each stroke. Then at the end, when you abruptly stop the rod, angle the rod tip up about six inches to send the line and leader upward. They will fall softly to the water’s surface, with a little extra slack in the leader.


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Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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About The Author Landon Mayer is a veteran Colorado guide and author of several books. His newest books, The Hunt for Giant Trout, and Sight Fishing for Trout (Second Edition) can be purchased on his website, at www.landonmayerflyfishing.com. His newest video, Master the Short Game, by Headwater Media, can be purchased at www.mastertheshortgame.com. You can follow Landon on Instagram at @landonmayerflyfishing.

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High Country Angler • Fall 2019

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Get Jiggy With it One of my favorite rig for the fall is a Hopper with a Mini Leech Jig from the Radiant Series. The Mini Leech Jig is my go-to anchor fly for nymphs, dry droppers, or as a solo drifting streamer imitation. Tied on a Tiemco 403 BL jig hook with a slotted tungsten bead, the micro pine squirrel tied with skin facing opposite the hook shank, matched with the ostrich herl collar, provides enough buoyancy that it suspends balanced. Produced in sizes #12,14,16 and colors sculpin olive, rust, or black, this is one jig fly you don’t want to miss out on for all moving and still waters! Color combos can range from (white/pink, black/orange, black/purple, brown/rust, olive/olive) This pattern is so effective because it triggers an aggressive response while also matching the leeches and egg sucking leeches moving in the water. For this I use a conventional false cast, as it is essential to keep the Hopper/Dropper straight and

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separated in the water. Think of the back cast as a pull, and the forward stroke as a push. This helps you slow down and concentrate on each stroke, which in turn reduces false casts and produces more accurate deliveries. It is important to open your loops on both the back and forward casting strokes to prevent the flies from snagging the leader or fly line. The best way to achieve this is to allow the rod to drop slightly past the stopping point on the back cast; then after you stop on the forward cast, slightly drop your rod tip (point your thumb more toward the target). Your rod tip must travel in a straight plane to cut through wind and make tighter loops, which allows the flies to straighten out instead of collapsing and bunching together on the water. The next time you find yourself wondering what will it take to fool this trout, visualize the space just below the surface for your next drift. The beauty is you still see back or tail breaking the water surface. I wish everyone a safe and successful autumn.

DEO!ay! I V W E N od r Copy T u

Order Yo

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FROM THE COLORADO TU PRESIDENT • CAM CHANDLER

Partnerships Make It Happen Throughout this 50th anniversary year for Colorado Trout Unlimited, we’ve had a lot to celebrate with important accomplishments, past and present, in protecting Colorado’s rivers. Our success simply would not be possible without the support of many outstanding partners. In this issue of High Country Angler, you’ll see the stories behind some of those partnerships – the collaborative South Platte Protection Plan, interagency cooperation to restore native trout, the new “Learning by Doing” program for the Colorado headwaters, collaboration with irrigators to benefit native

Colorado TU 50th Anniversary Celebration When: Doors open at 5:30 pm, film showings begin at 7:30 pm Where:  Avanti Food & Beverage, 3200 N Pecos St, Denver Who: CTU members, partners, supporters and friends Why:  To celebrate 50 years of trout conservation and enjoy a Throwback showing of classic fly fishing films in partnership with Trouts Fly Fishing How: Advance tickets are $10 (or $35 for VIP pass including Upslope beer, passed apps and a raffle entry) and can be reserved at coloradotu.org/ ctu50filmparty

trout in Abrams Creek, stakeholder efforts for Stream Management Planning, and more. Our relationships cut across all sectors – from governmental agency partners like Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the US Forest Service, 12

High Country Angler • Fall 2019

to business partners like Freestone Aquatics and Upslope Brewing, from water community partners like Denver Water and American Rivers, to fly fishing industry partners like Rep Your Water and Anglers All. Without question, the most significant work we’ve accomplished has been thanks to the shared commitment with our partners. I look forward to commemorating our 50 years alongside many of those partners – and with individual supporters and members like you – as we gather for a special 50th Anniversary Celebration on October 15 at Avanti Food and Beverage in Denver. We’ll toast 50 years with food and drink, premiere a special short film on CTU’s 50th anniversary, and kick back to enjoy a set of classic fly fishing films with the Throwback Fly Fishing Film Fest courtesy for our friends at Trouts Fly Fishing. I hope you can join me and NTU President Chris Wood for this special celebration. Put it on the calendar. It’s sure to be a blast! As CTU continues our ambitious efforts for the future – from large-scale native trout recovery in the Poudre headwaters, to making the goals of the Colorado Water Plan a reality – we will require further collaboration and support from our amazing partners. I am so grateful to all of them for joining us in the cause of conserving, protecting, and restoring Colorado’s coldwater fisheries and their watersheds. Here’s to our continued success for the next 50 years! Cam Chandler is the President of Colorado Trout Unlimited and a past president of the Cutthroat Chapter.

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2nd Annual fly fishing...

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N NEW EW PPA ART RTNER NERSSH HIP IPSS PPA AYY O OFFFF TTO O

“ S AV E T H E FR A S ER ”

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BY COLORADO TU STAFF

High Country Angler • Fall 2019

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T

he Fraser River has seen dramatic change over the years. Major diversion from the Fraser and its tributaries takes place via the Moffat Tunnel which began diversion in 1936 and has increased its tap on the river over the decades since then. Diminished flows have left many parts of the Fraser with an overwide and shallow channel, elevated water temperatures, and reduced trout habitat. The river continued to support a strong fishery for many years – the area drew avid angler President Eisenhower to make it his western White House in the 1950s. But by the 1990s and 2000s, conditions had declined as a combination of factors including low flows, high stream temperatures, and choking of habitat from traction sand had

put the fishery and the macroinvertebrate life on which it depends into steep decline. Denver Water operates the Moffat Tunnel and draws thousands of acre-feet of water from the Fraser valley every year, and its proposed Moffat Firming Project will increase those diversions yet further, albeit focused during wetter periods. The Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of TU has long raised concerns about the impacts of those existing and planned diversions, rallying the community in a campaign to “Save the Fraser” – as seen on many bumper stickers around Grand County. Given the history of conflict across the Continental Divide, Denver Water might seem an unlikely ally in tackling the habitat

challenges facing the river. Indeed, the utility’s name used to be accompanied by some colorful epithets in Grand County – frustrations ran deep over front range engineers focusing on water development and not west slope habitat protection. Yet as Denver, Grand County, Trout Unlimited, and other stakeholders began a collaborative river management program known as “Learning by Doing, attitudes began to change as those former adversaries developed an effective partnership to advance mitigation and restoration efforts. The first major project tackled by Learning by Doing (“LBD”) was on the Fraser Flats reach, near the confluence of the Fraser with Ranch Creek. Wide, shallow, and lacking in habitat diversity, the


Partners in Conservation The Fraser Flats restoration isn’t the first time that Freestone Aquatics has partnered with TU to complete a successful and innovative project. In 2012, Freestone designed and built – and made significant financial contributions to – the innovative “Hartsel Easy Access Recreation Trail” project. The trail, at the Badger Basin State Wildlife Area, allows anglers of all physical abilities barrier-free access to the excellent fishing available on the Middle Fork, South Platte River. Just last year, Freestone donated its time providing technical guidance to a team of Colorado School of Mines students working with Colorado TU and Jefferson County Open Space on design for habitat restoration features on the North Fork of the South Platte at Pine Valley Ranch. Completing multiple private land restoration projects on the North Fork—despite its variable and challenging hydrology –made Freestone an indispensable resource to TU and its partners in looking at how to improve a key public reach of an underappreciated fishery close to the Denver metro area. “In my day job, I work in the construction industry,” said Colorado TU President Cam Chandler, “and I know the importance of hiring an experienced and reliable contractor. But finding one that is also willing to invest its own resources to insure a project’s success is rare.  That’s just the kind of partnership we’ve developed with Freestone. We deeply appreciate Freestone’s support, expertise and creativity, and we feel fortunate to work with them.”

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High Country Angler • Fall 2019

roughly one-mile reach was in serious need of some tender loving care. “Before the project, this reach yielded the poorest trout population estimates of any location in the Fraser River Basin sampled by Colorado Parks and Wildlife,” explained Denver Water Environmental Scientist Jessica Alexander. It was a natural selection for a first site to begin restoring habitat through LBD. Working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the partners set out to make positive change for the degraded reach through a publicprivate collaboration that included opening up nearly half of the reach to public angling access (generously provided by the landowner, Grand County Water and Sanitation District No. 1). The remainder of the reach on private land was also restored with financial support from Devils Thumb Ranch. Given the historic conflict between Denver Water and the west slope, some have viewed LBD with plenty of skepticism. It was vital that the partnership’s first project at Fraser Flats was successful to begin allaying those doubts and build momentum for future success. “We understood the significance of the LBD partnership’s first cooperative river restorawww.HCAezine.com


tion work, and wanted to support the project’s success,” said Alexander. Success meant getting an effective design and build contractor behind the project as well. “Working with a good contractor is essential for project success,” explains Kirk Klancke, President of TU’s Colorado River Headwaters Chapter. “LBD received bids from several very competent contractors and ultimately selected Freestone Aquatics - and they did a great job.” With nearly 20 projects spread across over 25 miles of Grand County rivers and streams, including the Williams Fork, Troublesome Creek, Ranch Creek, the Blue

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River, the Fraser River, and the Colorado River itself, Freestone and owner Clint Packo brought valuable experience to the project. For the Fraser Flats, restoration included creating point bars and narrowing the channel, helping concentrate flow to provide greater depth and better fish habitat. Prior to the project, the reach consisted of a wide, shallow channel – Packo characterized much of the reach at low flow as not even being a riffle but as “dry cobble tops with water flowing around them.” Freestone proposed and constructed a three-stage channel design – built to maintain habitat across low base flow, average flow, and

5-10 year flood flows (with higher flood flows going into the floodplain). The end result produced a river with more diverse habitats including the alternating pool/ riffle sequences that are a hallmark of healthy trout rivers. While no restoration project can fully offset the impacts of extensive water diversion, the Fraser Flats project was designed to help make those impacts as small as possible. All of the partners brought resources to the table to make the project possible. Denver Water provided seed funding, ahead of its commitments under its cooperative agreements with the west slope, and significant time in co-

Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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managing the project with Trout Unlimited. Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Fishing is Fun grant program provided major support, as did donations from Patagonia and from LBD partner Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District. Devils Thumb Ranch funded the private component of the project. Freestone provided in-kind and cash donations beyond its base design contract, to ensure that the final project could meet all of the partners’ goals. And of course, Trout Unlimited and the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter volunteers provided hundreds of hours of sweat equity, helping to plant more than 2500 willows. Putting all the pieces together, the team-

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work needed to complete a successful project was in place. And that team effort has paid off. Surveys by Colorado Parks and Wildlife following project completion showed a dramatic increase in brown trout biomass. Local (and visiting) anglers have flocked to the newly improved and opened water, with the parking spots established by the public access regularly filled on summer days. And the stream faced – and performed through – a stern test with this year’s unusually long and high runoff season. “Freestone’s design has worked to create a stream channel that supports far more fish biomass while remaining stable under extreme high flow conditions this spring,”

said Klancke. Indeed, once completed, the project produced a nearly-immediate increase of 400% in brown trout biomass on the reach. While that figure has moderated in the face of heavy new angling pressure, CPW fish surveys show the reach still having more than doubled its brown trout biomass, and quadrupling its number of larger (>14”) browns. The Fraser Flats isn’t alone; the Fraser and the larger Colorado River system will face similar challenges of mitigating the impacts of changed conditions from water development, climate change, and other factors. “A decade from now, the Colorado River in Grand

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Milestones 2012 - Denver Water, Grand County, Middle Park Water Conservancy District, and the Colorado River Water Conservation District sign an intergovernmental agreement establishing the Learning by Doing Cooperative Effort 2013 – LBD in partnership with the Colorado Department of Transportation creates the Fraser River sediment pond to capture and remove traction sand from winter road operations that would otherwise impact the river downstream 2015 – LBD begins weekly water operation calls May-September – including coordinating releases of 500 acrefeet made available by Denver Water – and launches a partner-funded aquatic health monitoring program 2016 – Northern Water and its Municipal Subdistrict enter into an intergovernmental agreement joining the Learning by Doing Cooperative Effort Autumn 2017 – LBD’s Fraser Flats restoration project completed Spring 2018 – Fraser Flats dedication ceremony held, officially opening 0.4 miles of new public fishing access


County will be a different river than it is today,” said CPW biologist Jon Ewert. Fortunately, Ewert sees additional restoration projects like Fraser Flats as a promising path forward. “We have many projects in the design and planning stages that will address the ecological deficiencies that we have identified in recent history,” he said. “I'm confident that even with the additional water development projects planned, the habitat projects will result in a more productive and ecologically intact river system than we have today.” Ultimately, the essential ingredient in the Fraser Flats success – and the reason to be hopeful for

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the future – is partnership. Working together, the LBD partners are creating a better future for a watershed that has suffered through decades of degradation. “By partnering with the stakeholders that have both an impact on our rivers and an interest in the health of those rivers, Learning by Doing is able to open up a line of conversation that leads to a positive outcome for our rivers,” Klancke said. “I have been lucky enough to see a river in decline start to turn it's health around thanks to the Fraser Flats project. I'm looking forward to working on many more stream improvement projects in the future.”

Denver Water shares Klancke’s optimism. “LBD represents a turning point and new era of cooperative action, not conflict, among East Slope water providers and West Slope agencies and environmental groups,” said Alexander. “As we look to the future, Denver Water, Trout Unlimited, and the other LBD partners will continue to identify ways to collaborate and form new partnerships on projects that restore the aquatic environment in Grand County.”

To Learn More. To learn more about this story and Colorado Trout Unlimited, visit coloradotu.org.

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Colorado TU River Champion Business Partner

Freestone Aquatics is a premier aquatic restoration company providing innovative solutions to meet a client’s fishery and wildlife goals. Freestone’s services include:  Stream Restoration Habitat Enhancement Structures Stream Bank Stabilization Multi-flow Regime Channel & Habitat Creation Spawning Habitat Creation New Stream Construction, and more www.HCAezine.com

Freestone’s team is comprised of multi-disciplined professionals that are passionate about their work and who bring a unique approach and unparalleled energy to each project we undertake. Our depth of experience allows us to offer a full-range of aquatic consulting and habitat enhancement and construction services to deliver timely and cost-effective solutions for your river, lake or wetland project.  We strive to promote long-term sustainability, while maintaining the beauty and integrity of the natural environment.  At Freestone, our core mission is to bring our customers the highest level of professional environmental and construction-related services and to deliver projects that leave a legacy to be enjoyed by landowners and their families, friends and clients for years to come. Fall 2019 • High Country Angler 21 www.freestoneaquatics.com


My Favorite Western Stillwaters by Brian La Rue

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recent feature in Fly Fisherman Magazine about “Colorado’s Top Stillwaters” got me thinking: as a guy who has lived in five Western states, I’ve had the privilege of fishing numerous fisheries, including some amazing stillwaters. I thought I’d expand on that list, adding stillwaters I feel are top notch in each of the states in our region—and maybe even offer a bonus or two? Let’s begin in one of the hot beds for epic fishing with a handful of the best stillwaters in the Rockies. Yes, I’m talking about the East Idaho/Southwest Montana area. Here you will find Hebgen and Quake lakes on the Montana side and Henry’s Lake on the Idaho side. Let’s start with Hebgen and Quake.

filled waters with springs or consistent inflow always make for good insect life and fat trout. Whether you’re targeting gulpers on the surface, ripping zonkers on a sinking line or nymphing, depths that are accessible to fly fisherman are key. Hebgen Lake, just a short drive from West Yellowstone, is an amazing spot for dry fly action as small boaters, tubers and driftboat-based anglers can slide up to actively feeding fish with Gulpers Specials and other assorted dries. Walking and wading the bank can also be good! On an average day when these pods are cruising the coves, angers can catch dozens of 16to 22-inch trout. Where should you target these Gulpers? Best spots include the Madison Arm, the South Fork of the MadMontana’s Hebgen and ison Arm and the Grayling Arm. Come stocked with Quake Lake a variety of Tricos and Callibaetis, but be ready to capTo me, part of being an epic stillwater fishery is italize on the mayfly spinners on warmer, calm sumeasy access to quality fish with ample shallow water mer days. If you can only make the trip early in the action that caters to fly fisherman. I’ve found fishing season, say June, carry your typical midges and fish in about 15 feet of water or less is most productive them both on top and subsurface. Flashy chronomids with fly outfits, so these shallower, cove and point would also be on the menu here. Most dry patterns 22

High Country Angler • Fall 2019

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are best in the 14 to 18 size range and fish them with a longer leader not to spook the fish. What do I love about Hebgen? Besides everything I’ve already shared, the ideal day, conditions will not only bring you quality fish and lots of them, but the whole idea of casting to these actively feeding, sizeable gulpers, kind of the whole reason many of us got into fly fishing! We see a fish cruising to our right, cast a small dry ahead of it by 15 feet or so. You see the fish take note of the fly landing, swim slowly over to it and gulp—you’re on. I could do this all day!

Quake Lake— One Bonus I mentioned!

Quake Lake piggybacks with Hebgen here. It is just down the Madison from Hebgen and was formed from the large earthquake and resulting landslide about 60 years ago. Quake features some of the best scenery but appears more like “the land time forget”—or a Bassmaster lake, as it is home to sunken trees that were flooded when the hillside down the way turned the river into the lake. And like bass fisheries, the structure holds big browns, rainbows and cutthroat. The trick is to tube, boat, or try your luck from the bank as large trout can be seen searching the structure for minnows, crustaceans and insect life all day long. The trick here, again, you’re going to do a lot of sight fishing with dries, but don’t count out throwing streamers on heavy tippets or custom leaders to fool larger fish hanging among the trees in the depths. Yes, you will lose a lot of streamers in the structure, but I think we will all give up a couple Zonkers or Woolly Buggers if we caught a 22-to 24-inch brown during the outing. At Quake, pound the shoreline, casting 15 to 25 feet ahead of your next step each time. The fish cruise the shoreline early and late in the day and they will hit a hopper, trico or calleebaetis any time. I like Quake early in the morning or on a breezy afternoon when I get chased off Hebgen. It is a bit more shielded from the elements and a searching cast with a hopper in August or September will work wonders when you don’t see active risers. Throw a mouse pattern in the evening, but be ready to pull a fish out of hiding like Bill Dance (ok maybe not that extreme) --- fast on heavier line so you don’t end up tangled and broken off in the trees!

Idaho’s Henry’s Lake

Yes, another keeper in the neighborhood! Make a 7- to 10-day trip if you plan to tackle this group of stillwaters. Hebgen, Henry’s and Quake lakes are all located just a short drive from West Yellowstone and they don’t see the massive fly crowds as other rivers in the area. Henry’s is a special spot. There are not too many places that will offer trophy sized cutthroat, cut-bow hybrids to 14 pounds, and the occasional brookie to 5 pounds. Unlike its cousins in Montana, Henry’s Lake is often a leech fisherman’s dream. Olive, green and black mini leeches typical attract the biggest fish. Fishing any of the creek mouths is a good way to start. Get out on your pontoon or tube here and dance and strip that leech to get bit. Fishing opens Memorial Day weekend and runs to January 1. With most years, ice off typically occurs just before opener and ice forms in November. Yes, if you look up news stories and fishing reports about Henry’s Lake you will see pictures from opening day with a single angler holding five fish over 8 pounds, yes, all at one time, keeping them all. Despite these challenges, Idaho Fish and Game loads up multiple times of year, and the lake is so nutrient rich—6-inch fish grow at an amazing rate so 18 inchers are common. Upwards of 60,000 fingerlings cuts, cuttbows and brookies are added with each stock, multiple times a year most years. Thus, Henry’s can sustain this kind of crowd. So, it still earns a spot on my favorites.

Utah’s Strawberry Reservoir

Moving south to Utah, Strawberry Reservoir is located some 90 miles from Salt Lake. Most will not make the drive to fish it, so though it sees it share fair of anglers each year, you can still find peaceful fishing where you and a buddy can pontoon your way to dozens of cutthroat and rainbows from 14 to 22 inches. And there is always a chance at multiple hookups with fish greater than 24 inches. Part of Utah’s Blue Ribbon Fishery Program, Strawberry has long been a large cutthroat producer. I’ve had my best days at ice off when there’s about 15 to 20 yards of open water around the rocky shorelines. Simply casing nymph rigs or San Juan worms along


the shelf can be amazing. No indicator needed, cast the nymph/midge combo and pull it into the water off the shelf and watch the line sink. The opportunistic cutthroat will grab and run within 5 seconds of your line hitting the water. Watching the line twitch, and then of course the line feeds out quicker, allowing you to set the hook and catch 18- to 22-inch cutthroat all day. Find any open water near rocks or fish the inlet in a pontoon while the rest of the lake is frozen, and you’ll have an epic day. Should you get there a month later, no worries; Zonkers and other assorted streamers will now be the hot ticket. Spend a morning in about 10 to 15 feet of water and pound the shoreline with a slightly weighted streamer, or utilize an intermediate line and you will catch fish about every tenth cast. It is very similar to bass fishing on a fancy Ranger boat, casting into the shallows and pulling a fish out of any “fishy-looking spot.” No, you’re not catching bass, but 18- to 26-inch cutthroat and rainbows on the olive, white and baby-trout patterned streamer assortment will be the norm. Of course, as the season pushes on and the water gets warmer, you’ll have to go deeper, nymph to get down, or hang up the gear until late September when things being to cool off again. It can be really good later in the season again. If you find yourself out there in late July—fish early in the shallows, then spend the warmer parts of the day on the Strawberry River below the dam. You might just have the same quality fish all to yourself. On a side note—Strawberry was the first place I ever ice fished--- catching (15) 18- to 22-inch cutthroat in 3 hours on nymphs, on an ice fishing rod. My buddy said I was crazy using nymphs instead of his fancy ice jigs.

Private Cheyenne Waters?

I had the pleasure of fishing with Bob Reece on Horse Creek Ranch just outside of Cheyenne. It’s a massive private ranch sprawling some 60,000 acres with 15 lakes and 4 streams. I took my son with us and we had a blast casting large damsel dries, and when that slowed a bit, tugging leeches to catch large rainbows, cutthroat and brookies. And we didn’t even get to the tiger trout waters. The lakes were set in a warmer, higher elevation setting and fished like backcountry waters. We drove from lake to lake. Some were 25 acres,

some over 400 acres, but all held willing fish as we waded the shoreline casting to the edges of the weeds, a favorite pastime as large trout love to find Callebaetis or damsels along these lines. Throw in frogs and smaller trout, and weedlines might as well be buffet lines. If you want to spoil yourself, plan a trip with Bob and learn a few techniques, particularly when it comes to leech fishing and utilizing the right setups to get down to the fish when conditions turn to gusty winds and thunderstorms. Fishing stillwaters, I believe, tests your skills to adapt more than a river does. Rivers tend to flow the same way no matter the wind, but when a gusty wind comes up on a stillwater, you better be ready with Plan B or it can be a frustrating day.

Spinney Reservoir

What stillwater piece would be complete without circling back home to Colorado to highlight Spinney Reservoir? Though it has always been a side dish for me personally, I’ve had success with a variety of callibaetis, damsels flies and nymphing with chironomids. The east shoreline has always been my favorite spot to target the reservoir’s rainbows, browns and cutthroat. I don’t think I’ve ever scored a calm day at Spinney, so I’ve always packed a still 5 wt or rigged a 6wt for backup to combat the wind. Damsel fly patterns have always been a favorite of mine to toss, but a chironomid rig is always at the ready if they aren’t eating my damsel. Again, with any stillwaters, fish early or late in the day and the earlier in the season you can target Spinney the better! What many folks have learned over the years at Spinney, when fishing gets tough, move out deeper and run longer leaders or try an intermediate line. Waiting for your fly to get near the bottom can be pain staking, but if you’re patient, your efforts will be rewarded. Many times, larger fish will cruise these deeper edges in late morning looking for an easy meal. With most anglers targeting the 7- to 10-foot zone, you might have the deeper spot to yourself. Drop a larger/ small chironomid combo or even a nymph rig, maybe something red or something with hackle that will flare with movement. Or even try a leech. Be patient and always carry a “guide weight.” I utilize a larger alligator clip/weight on my bottom fly to find the bottom depth and then remove it—setting my indicator on the bend in my leader at the surface to keep the flies about six


inches off the bottom, and I quickly start hooking fish again. As with any nymph setup, the key is to figure out the depth of the water, the depth of the fish, and then set your indicator to match. On stillwaters, I’ve either done a dry with a dropper for suspending fish, or set my rig to fish near the bottom, and I’ve always been able to bring fish to the net. Probably about 85% of the time, it’s the rig just off the bottom that’s going to get the strikes. A streamer or leech rig has always been my early and late setup for nicer fish. What are your favorite stillwaters? This spring saw some great runoff/snowpack and sent a much-needed shot in the arm to our lakes and reservoirs. They will reap the benefits for a handful of seasons to come. Take advantage of this opportunity and give it a try

this fall, or with ice-off next spring. Just remember; be patient in deeper water, fish a long leader, and have fun chasing risers while sight fishing to photo fish. Good luck wherever you go!

About The Author High Country Angler contributor Brian La Rue enjoys giving fly fishers ideas of where to go for an adventure. Feel free to reach out to Brian at Brian@hcamagazine. com if you want your lodge or guide service featured in an upcoming promotional marketing plan.


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Fishing For Purpose: How Making One Custom Desk Gave My Work a Deeper Meaning

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never thought that a TieCraft fly tying desk might become a footnote in Landon Mayer’s family history. The thought of making fly tying desks that could be a part of family legacies hadn’t even crossed my mind when I first learned of Landon and his fishing expertise. What happened to change my perspective? When I read his outstanding 2009 guide Sight Fishing for Trout, I was just happy to benefit from his years on the water with the goal of becoming a better angler. I never imagined our paths would cross. At that time in my life, I was just starting to make custom furniture and trying to get my business off the ground.

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High Country Angler • Fall 2019

By Drew Allman

Finding the Right Grind Before that, I held various sales jobs in Corporate America. College had prepared me for (and convinced me of) the path that I was supposed to follow: 1) Achieve success, 2) Make money, 3) Be happy. It was a simple plan, but step three never seemed to slide into view. Even the best job left me feeling trapped and wondering what I was doing. In fact, I would probably still have a job I wasn’t meant to be doing if it weren't for a health issue that caused me to rethink my life. It was nothing life-threatening, but it certainly gave me a new perspective. With a new and profound understanding of how short life is, I submitted my resignation and started my furniture business the very same day. The next several years were a grind, and they were wonderful. Working out of my garage, learning a new trade, making mistakes, learning how to fix them, and figuring out how to run my own business was my new reality, and I relished it. Even the most tedious task would make me smile in the realization that I was doing what I was meant to do! After seven years of hard work, I was confident that I could bring any client or designer’s idea to life. Step three (be happy) had become real, but I still felt like there was another level to explore.

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When Two Passions Collide As an angler who enjoyed tying flies as much as fishing, I knew there weren’t many companies that made modern fly tying desks. After looking for the right desk to meet my needs, it was clear I would need to build my own. Once I started, I knew this was where I wanted to direct my energy. If I couldn’t find exactly the right desk, surely others would have the same problem. Modern anglers deserved more than boring fly tying desks. Despite this revelation, it never occurred to me that what I built could be more than just a piece of beautiful, functional furniture.

A New Kind of Collaboration I first met Landon last year at the premiere of One Path, the documentary about the plight of Mongolia’s giant salmonids. I told him a little bit about TieCraft and our mission to create desks that provide owners an experience as good as bewww.HCAezine.com

ing on the water. His interest was piqued. For the next month, we spoke off and on about various concepts. We talked about his design preferences and the decor of his home, to make sure this creation would work with his style. With all of the desks we have made, I never had someone ask me to incorporate as much tying space as Landon wanted. After pressing him a little bit, Landon revealed his long-term vision for the desk: That it would be used for him to tie on side-by-side with his family members, and to ultimately be passed down to his children when the time came. Flies would not be the only thing created at this desk.

Suddenly, it clicked. Having a full understanding of the desk’s true purpose had illuminated the elusive next step. I finally had a full understanding of my own purpose. I would build functional art that would give owners a 100% unique fly tying experience, and could become heirlooms to be passed down from generation to generation. Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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blue tinted epoxy to represent the moment that brought London and his wife together, joining to form a flow of family happiness and prosperity. I wanted to make Landon’s piece unique, while After that, only executional details remained. avoiding a common pitfall of a project like this. Heirlooms are a tricky concept. The name alone conjures images that few other words can: Family, Connection, About The Author History, Love. Unfortunately, heirlooms frequently get passed down from relucAs the founder of custom furniture company tant generation to reluctant generation, Board & Bolt, master craftsman Drew Allman stored in one dusty corner or another knows intimately the quality that turns a piece of out of a sense of duty. furniture into a work of art. Through seven years Each time we pass by them, they siof award-winning work, Drew found himself lently plead to be used or even wanted. escaping completely into the detailed joy of tying When heirlooms lack a shared meaning flies, and soon discovered a small problem: it within the family, they might fail to be was nearly impossible to find a fly tying desk that appreciated by those who will one day was both functional and had a soul to match his own them. Considering this risk, I knew passion for the sport. Others agreed, and TieCraft Landon's family desk needed to mean was born. See his work at www.Tie-Craft.com. something to everyone in the family.

Unpacking the Baggage of an Heirloom

But What Does It All Mean? In order to lead the approach with meaning, I started to think about the concepts that tied their common family experiences together: fishing, family, water, ancestors, river, etc. Two stood out immediately in the context of physical representation into an elegant design. I’ve worked quite a bit with live edge wooden furniture, which incorporates a cross section of an entire tree where the outside edge of the tree is exposed. I felt like this style with converging epoxy channels symbolizing river tributaries would be perfect symbols for the family. For the river treatments, I decided to cut a channel into the slab and run a river of 32

High Country Angler • Fall 2019

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Final Product Four weeks later, the final product for Landon and his family was complete, but also the transformation for TieCraft had begun. I had sufficiently obsessed over every detail. From metal patina to the perfect combination of blue and green epoxy tint, no detail was overlooked.

Later in the month, Landon and I made arrangements for him to come by the shop to pick up his desk. Around the time of the unveil, I looked out the door and saw that Landon didn’t come alone, but he had brought his son and daughter. It seemed only fitting that his kids would be there for the big moment. When Landon finally laid eyes on the desk, he said it was like a new member of the family. His son River said, “So this is my new brother?” Well, maybe. All I know is that one project completely changed my approach to creating custom fly tying desks. When the piece includes real meaning, I think the intention carries a gravity with it that no other piece of furniture can. It becomes meaningful by intentional design, and the final piece becomes a refuge from the stresses of daily life. I have found a new step three, and it all revolves around adding value and meaning to client legacies. When it comes to footnotes, I don’t think I could ask for much more.

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A GUIDE’S LIFE

BY HAYDEN MELLSOP

Peace and Perspective

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e drove slowly up the road, dodging potholes filled with last night’s rainfall, gunning through a couple of mud pits, past an old cemetery set at the edge of an aspen grove— the place its residents lived and died and were laid to rest testament to both the beauty and indifference of their surroundings—until we came to a place where a stream, charging down from one of the nearby peaks, had carved a deep channel across the road. Discretion being the better part of valor, I decide to park off to the side and hike from here, rather than attempt a crossing. We sat on the tailgate and ate a lunch of trail mix, summer sausage, crackers, and apples while I rigged our rods—hers a Wright-MacGill Fly Girl three

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High Country Angler • Fall 2019

weight—pretty much the only rod she’ll fish with since I gave it to her for her eighth birthday. It is the perfect rod for the high country, where mountain streams, beaver ponds, and granite peaks coalesce to form a backdrop for memories made for a lifetime. As we ate, clouds darkened across the divide, thunder rumbled, and rain began to spatter in heavy droplets upon the ground. “Let’s ride this one out in the truck,” I suggested. Front seats reclined, we both soon fell asleep to the sound of rain on the roof and the occasional peel of distant thunder. We woke some time later to a blue sky and, rousing, took up our rods and made our way downhill to where we could make out a small beaver pond, reflecting grey amongst the green of a

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surrounding tangle of willows. “That was a little more comfortable than that time on the Rio Grande,� she said, referring to a past trip where we’d sheltered from the heart of a thunderstorm beneath the marginal lee of a small overhang, high up a granite cliff face. I nodded my agreement, recalling the simultaneous flashes of lightning and peels of thunder that shook the cliff face, and the rainwater seeping slowly through the cracks in the granite overhang. The current storm cell now well past, the air was perfectly still, and the surface of the beaver pond became like a mirror, the crystal clear water revealing every nuance and contour of the bed—a mix of silt, sunken logs, and decaying vegetation. We stood and watched. Intermittent bubbles of gas escaped from the bed, dimpling the surface with rings that radiated from their source, similar to those made by a rising fish. Patiently

we waited and watched until we discerned the difference between these and a genuine rise, the latter more pronounced and sporadic. She cast out toward one of these and let her fly sit, then picked up and cast to another rise. This time the fish obliged, and she stripped to the shore a tiny brook trout that we gently released without touching it. I left her to the pond and moved ahead to another, where I’d seen a couple of fish leap from the water in pursuit of airborne quarry, yet, after twenty minutes and several fly changes, not so much as a missed strike could I claim. In this way, we made our way up the valley, taking to the road where the charging course of the stream took precedence, then dropping back down to fish wherever the activity of the beaver had divert-

ed and slowed its flow. While fish rose steadily in these ponds, for the most part they refused our offerings, and our shadows cast long across the road as we returned to the truck. “I love camping,â€? she said as we walked. “What is it you like the most?â€? I asked She thought for a few moments before responding. “It’s just so‌. peaceful.â€? I thought of her life—college, grades, the pressure of making her way toward an unknown future in a world seemingly hell-bent on self destruction—and nodded agreement. “That’s the point of places like this,â€? I said. “They put everything else in perspective.â€?

Hayden Mellsop Fly ďŹ shing guide. Real Estate guide.

About The Author Hayden Mellsop is an expat New Zealander living in the mountain town of Salida, Colorado, on the banks of the Arkansas River. As well as being a semiretired fly fishing guide, he juggles helping his wife raise two teenage daughters, along with a career in real estate.

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Trout Smart Series: An Insider's Guide to Catching Cutbow Trout on the Fly

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our reel screams as fluorescent fly line unspools down river behind the largest dorsal fin you’ve ever seen. This is a common scene when you hook into cutbow! Equal parts pit bull, feral pig, and mutant trout, cutbows are a single-minded alpha predator that are all about packing on the pounds and aren’t picky about what they eat. Cutbows are a hybrid trout species created when the eggs of female cutthroat trout are fertilized by male rainbow trout. While naturally occurring in water inhabited by both rainbow and cutthroat trout, in the late 1980’s cutbows became a mainstay of hatcheries across the Rocky Mountain west due to their hardiness and resistance to contracting whirling disease. In this installment of our Trout Smart series, we will be breaking down how to fish for Oncorhynchus clarkii x mykiss, aka the Cutbow trout.

Trout photo credit: Jared Jenkins


Identifying Characteristics Cutbows are without a doubt the most misidentified trout species. Sharing characteristics of both the rainbow and cutthroat trout, with these traits exhibiting themselves to varying degrees from population to population, the fly fisher needs an acute eye to properly identify this fish. The key characteristics that define a cutbow trout are:

1. 2. 3. 4. 5.

Moderate to Light Spotting along the back and sides A pink to red stripe running along the sides (lateral line) of the fish Their sides and belly are a golden-tan to silver color void of spots A blotchy red, birthmark-like red patch on their cheek An orange or red slash of color under their jaw


Range & Habitat While only naturally reproducing in small numbers in the wild, both state and private hatcheries in New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Montana, Utah, Idaho, Washington, and Oregon hatch and release tens of millions of cutbow trout each year. Equally at home lakes and rivers, cutbows are a fast-growing, resilient breed that can survive in water temperatures up to the mid-70’s (Fahrenheit). Less cautious than Brown and Brook trout, cutbows will often be found in the shallow riffles and faster flows cohabitating with their paternal relatives, the rainbow trout. Unlike hybrids such as the Splake (Brook Trout / Lake Trout Cross) and Tiger Trout (Brook Trout / Brown Trout Cross), cutbows are sexually viable and spawn in the spring through summer in water temperatures between 40 – 50 degrees Fahrenheit.


Feeding Behavior & Foods

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Cutbows are bred to be big and aren’t known for their smarts. Feeding primarily on macroinvertebrates such as mayflies, caddis flies, stoneflies, and midges, cutbows are easy prey to any angler who is halfway decent at matching the hatch. As cutbows reach 3 to 4 years of age or top 15 – 16 inches in length, larger prey species such as crayfish, minnow, leeches, young trout, and large terrestrial insects become staples in their diet, and they really start to pack on the muscle!

Vulnerabilities

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1. Small Brains & Big Mouths – Cutbows are competitors and the name of the game is “Eat More Food Than the Trout Next to You!” This type of snap-judgement feeding can get the cutbow into trouble and into your landing net. So long as you match the hatch and present your flies with a drag-free drift, the cutbows will rise and feed! 2. Over Confident & Over Powered – Call it over confidence or the results of a breeding experiment gone wrong, but cutbows make themselves vulnerable to the fly fisher by holding in shallow to mid-depth waters far from cover. When hooked, cutbows pull out all of the tricks from the rainbow trout’s playbook – jumping and pulling in fast drives until they exhaust themselves. Let the drag on your reel do the work of wearing the fish down, and as soon they are out of gas, they should come meekly to hand.

Located on a World-Renowned Fly Fishing River in Montana

About The Author Peter Stitcher is an Aquatic Biologist and owner of Ascent Fly Fishing. Originator of the Biologist Crafted Fly Selection, Peter and his team build their clients’ fly selections specific to the bugs in the waters they fish, when they fish them. You can contact Peter or restock your fly box at: www.ascentflyfishing.com.

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BOB KAPLAN Kaplan Brokerage Group (303) 328-2034 Bob.Kaplan@marcusmillichap.com

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Partners Saving Abrams Creek Cutties By Colorado TU Staff

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brams Creek holds the last remaining indigenous population of Colorado River cutthroat trout in the Eagle River watershed. For more than a century, however, Abrams Creek has been dewatered by irrigation diversions that drastically reduce its flows in late summer and fall. The trout have been hanging on, but they’re seriously pressured. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has called this population the “highest priority” for cutthroat conservation efforts in Western Colorado.

In 2016, Trout Unlimited’s Mely Whiting helped negotiate a deal with the local irrigation company, Buckhorn Valley Metro District, which agreed to pipe their irrigation ditch and thereby reduce leakage by 40 percent, with the water savings going back into the creek to keep the fish healthy. Buckhorn also agreed that it would not divert any water if flows fall under 1.25 cfs. Among other benefits, increased flows are expected to:

Increase habitat and riparian cover along approximately 3.5 miles of stream.

Improve in-stream habitat connectivity and quality, allowing trout to more easily move to the best habitat and holding areas.

Enhance sediment transport, which helps keep river cobble and spawning habitat clean and healthy.

Increase aquatic insect productivity, improving cutthroat food resources.

Create deeper pools for trout refuge.

Maintain cooler water temperatures in lower Abrams Creek.


PLAY VIDEO

Moreover, a permanent fish screen has been installed at the point of diversion on Abrams Creek that will help protect the trout population by reducing losses due to entrainment in the ditch. Earlier this year, Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Eagle River Watershed Council, and the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District No. 1 (District) collaborated to complete the ambitious restoration project on Abrams Creek to help preserve the native cutthroat. Working together, these partners are making a brighter future for one of Colorado’s most unique fish populations.


“The Hidden Mile Partnerships Help Restore The Conejos River By Mark Seaton

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n 2014, the San Luis Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited began working on a restoration project on a three-quarter mile section of the Conejos River known as the Hidden Mile. This little-noticed section of river is bordered on the upper and lower boundaries by private land, with no designated access to the river or signage. This section of the river is in terrain where the gradient decreases and the river slows. Years of bank and riparian damage by trespass cattle had taken a toll on the river. Structure in this section was minimal, and electroshocking by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) verified that the section held few fish. At first glance it didn’t seem like much of a fishery – but a group of partners came together behind a vision for improving it into a quality destination for anglers fishing the Conejos. The chapter began collaborating with CPW and Rio Grande National Forest personnel to begin project design and scope. The Chapter applied for and received $80k from the Fishing is Fun grant program at CPW. In addition, the Chapter provided

funding to hire Flywater, Inc. for the restoration design and oversight of the in-river work. Some highlights of this project include: • A significant amount of financial support was provided by our partnership with Conejos River Anglers, the only local fly shop on the river. This fly shop generously designates a significant portion of the proceeds from their annual Conejos Superfly contest to our chapter. • Due to the years of damage by trespass cattle, fencing of the entire area was an integral part of the project. Fencing materials were provided by the US Forest Service. TU volunteers worked side by side with Forest Service personnel to complete the fencing and create a designated parking area. This included the installation of a floating fence on the upper and lower ends of the project, quite an endeavor in itself!


HEAVY EQUIPMENT, ROCKS, AND ROOT WADS FOR IN-STREAM HABITAT IMPROVEMENT.

HANGING FENCE AT LOWER END OF THE HIDDEN MILE.


RE-SCULPTED CHANNEL AT THE HIDDEN MILE.


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• River restoration and structure installation was completed in the fall of 2015. CPW provided the equipment operator, and oversight was provided by FlyWater, Inc. • Willow planting was performed by chapter volunteers in April 2016 to complete the project. Each partner was an important piece of the story, and each brought resources to the effort contributing to its success. And the end result? “The Hidden Mile Project improved fish habitat conditions and highlighted public access to a stretch of the Conejos River otherwise limited

by private land,” said Dave Topolewski, District Wildlife Biologist for the Rio Grande National Forest. “A designated parking area was installed to provide for safe parking that is minimally impactful to the surrounding meadow. Barbed wire fences were updated with a more wildlife-friendly design and floating fences were installed to improve watercraft safety while managing cattle grazing. Trout Unlimited and Colorado Parks and Wildlife have been instrumental in working to improve fish habitat on the Conejos for the past several years.” And working together in partnership, TU, CPW, and the Forest Service will continue to make a difference for the Conejos and other San Luis Valley rivers for years to come!

About The Author Mark Seaton is the president of the San Luis Valley Chapter of Trout Unlimited.

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Keeping a River Alive By Cary Denison

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he Big Cimarron River shouldn’t go dry. This may seem like an obvious declaration about any trout stream. But the truth is, here in Colorado’s Gunnison Basin and many other places in the West, water demands outpace supply even on average water years. This leaves many of the West’s rivers and streams, like the Big Cimarron, depleted and fractured. The Big Cimarron River emanates from the bottom of Silver Jack Reservoir, a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation facility that captures water from the three major streams on the north-facing slope of the Cimarron Range. In normal years, summer flows hammer through tight canyons, around boulders the size of Clydesdales, passing stands High Country Angler • Fall 2019

of aspen and spruce as it plunges more than 1700 feet in 20 miles on its way from Silver Jack Reservoir down to the Bureau of Reclamation’s Crystal Reservoir, and from there into the famed Black Canyon of the Gunnison River. The Big Cimarron supports all manner of wildlife, including wild trout, and is a treasured spot for many western Colorado anglers. But the summer of 2018 was not normal -- not by a long shot. And I shouldn’t have been shocked when I stood on a county road bridge and watched the remnants of the river collecting in dark pools behind powder grey boulders, then disappearing into cracks in the river’s bed. The sight turned my stomach, especially because I knew that my work www.HCAezine.com


was supposed to prevent such an occurrence. I was en route to meet the superintendent of the Cimarron Canal and Bostwick Park Conservancy District, a conservancy district of nearly 5000 acres which relies on the Big Cimarron watershed for irrigation water supply. The superintendent happens to be my older brother, who read my mood before I got out of my truck and nearly shouted, “I can’t seem to keep water in the creek, man… I release more every morning, but it just keeps dropping.” The juxtaposition of our roles in the watershed was on grand awkward display. His job is to deliver water to farmers and ranchers, and he has a senior water right for that purpose. My job is to look out for the health of a fishery which has next to no legal standing under western water law. I acknowledged my brother’s statement with a nod and shrug, glanced at the canal carrying 83 cubic feet per-second (cfs) of water diverted from the river, and proceeded to haul tools from my truck to the river below the diversion, where I would measure just 7 cfs of water. Both the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Colorado Water Conservation Board have determined that 25 cfs is necessary to maintain a healthy river below the canal and downstream through the Cimarron State Wildlife Area, a rugged and picturesque chunk of public lands home to a healthy population of wild trout. The 7 cfs wasn’t nearly enough to provide adequate habitat or keep water temperatures low enough to support trout for the rest of the summer. My brother and I had hatched a plan to increase flows in the river. The crux of the plan was to have the Colorado Division of Parks and Wildlife (CPW) release water it owns in Silver Jack Reservoir to the river. Normally, this water supports flat water recreation and stocked trout in the reservoir, so draining this pool of water to save the creek was the tradeoff that seemed shrewd. With approval from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and assistance from Bostwick Park Conservancy District, CPW agreed to request the release of an additional 7 cfs of water to the Big Cimarron, which would be delivered to the confluence with the Gunnison. www.HCAezine.com

Our efforts barely staved off disastrously low flow conditions in the most critical section of the Big Cimarron River. More importantly though, the arrangement laid the foundation for how we will react to drought in the future, and it complimented other projects Trout Unlimited and the Bostwick Park Conservancy District are pursuing. These efforts include increasing efficiency of the canal infrastructure, investigating the use of market-based water conservation tools, and working toward a watershed-wide planning effort that will help guide wise water use in the future. Just this week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation awarded the district a grant to replace a rusty old diversion gate at the Cimarron Canal diversion with a new gate that will be more reactive to downstream demands. As I drove down the valley that day, I chewed on Norman Maclean’s statement about rivers at low summer flows: “… part of the way to know a thing is through its death.” I decided that there are some things I’d rather not know. With some luck, and more partners and deals like the one we made in 2018, the Big Cimarron River can keep some of its secrets from future generations.

PLAY VIDEO

About The Author Cary Denison works for Trout Unlimited as the Gunnison Basin Project Manager under the Western Water and Habitat Program. He is based out of Montrose, Colorado.

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Headwaters River Journey by Mark Eddy and Kirk Klancke

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he rivers of Grand County, including the Fraser, the Williams Fork, and the Colorado, are the most heavily diverted in Colorado. Their waters, which begin as snowfall in the high peaks and rush from small creeks of trickling snowmelt to the surging rivers, are stripped of their vitality as they are piped into tunnels under the Continental Divide to the Front Range cities and suburbs. It’s a sprawling, primitive, nature-defying plumbing system that dates back to the Great Depression. So as members of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited, we have our hands full when it comes to our mission statement to “Conserve, protect and restore our cold-water fisheries.” Since there is no manual for saving rivers that have flows di-

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minished to the level that we see in Grand County, our plan has involved a lot of trial and error – with an emphasis on error. Over the years we have lobbied at the state legislature and in Washington, D.C. In 2011 we staged a Save the Fraser River demonstration on the steps of the State Capitol.   All this experience has taught us that legislation moves too slowly to help rivers as endangered as ours. Litigation may be used as a last resort, but while attorneys get richer, our rivers continue to suffer. Chalking both of these ideas up on the error side, we have moved to something that seems to be working for us: education. Our chapter has been raising money and volunteering for educational outreach in our local schools. This includes science classroom instruction and

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One Kid’s View of a World-Class Museum At the tail end of a weekend getaway in Grand County, I took my 14-year old daughter to the Headwaters River Journey. She came in skeptical, but left wowed by the museum’s engaging interactive activities, which allowed her to soar as an osprey over the Continental Divide and swim like a brown trout up the Fraser River. “I usually don’t like going to museums on vacation because they’re boring,” she said, “but this one wasn’t boring, it was fun. I really liked getting to ‘be’ a fish.” David Nickum, Colorado TU Executive Director

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field trips to look at our rivers through a sophisticated sciencebased approach. We have held adult education classes at community meetings that have been well attended by the over-40 crowd. To reach locals in their 20s and 30s, we hold concerts and offer brief interludes of river education between band sets.  All this has led to a county full of citizens who can tell you where our water goes and what that means for our rivers and streams. While this is a good start, it’s not the people in Grand County who hold the future of Colorado’s rivers in their hands. The challenge just got bigger. The education that has been so effective in the headwaters needs to happen statewide. 

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Fortunately, the Headwaters Chapter has a friend in the Sprout Foundation. The foundation has taken the extraordinarily generous and forward-thinking step of building a world-class, state-of-theart interactive river museum right on the banks of the Fraser River. Through a series of engaging and immersive exhibits, the museum captivates the attention of visitors and transports them virtually from the top of the Continental Divide to the Front Range suburbs to understand the critical issue of water use in our state, and how dramatically it affects the health of our rivers. The Headwaters River Journey museum is on Highway 40 in Winter Park. A visit will entertain all ages through hands-on interactive exhibits that show what healthy rivers look like, what happens to them in Colorado, and what each individual can do to change our culture of water use in an arid climate.  With a location close to Denver and along the way to the west entrance to Rocky Mountain National Park, the Headwaters River Journey is ideally located to accommodate a day trip through a beautiful mountain environment to experience the most important educational tool that the rivers in Colorado have to assure their health for future generations.  If you love rivers, you will love this museum. And if you don’t know enough yet to love rivers, you surely will after you experience the remarkable Headwaters River Journey. www.HCAezine.com

About The Author.

Kirk Klancke is the President of the Colorado River Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited. He has lived in the Fraser Valley for over 48 years, and has spent every summer fishing the Fraser River and its tributaries. For questions or comments, you can contact Kirk at kirkklancke@gmail.com.

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River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp Class of 2019 By Barbara Luneau

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olorado Trout Unlimited’s River Conservation and Fly Fishing Youth Camp class of 2019 attended the camp program June 9-15 at Silent Spring Resort in Almont, CO. With this class of alumni, we have achieved 14 years of the camp curricula. Since its initiation in 2016, nearly 250 teens have attended the camp. The Class of 2019 includes 19 campers representing 14 Colorado TU chapters, and one Washington chapter. The campers completed a week-long program that balances conservation education with building and improving fly fishing skills. Each day’s agenda includes a conservation education activity and a fly fishing excursion.

The activities are designed to expose the high school-age campers to a broad range of conservation-related topics, and potential career paths. Invited guest presenters are always a key component of the conservation agenda. This year’s agenda of guest experts included a field visit to a mining restoration site on the Slate River with the Crested Butte Land Trust, hands-on hydrology demonstrations with the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), riparian trailer lead by NRCS and Shavano Conservation District staff, water use discussion by TU program director Cary Denison, Water Law introduction by TU Colorado Water Project Legal Counsel Mely Whiting, tour

Staff volunteer, Mark Rayman introduces campers to casting fundamentals. Novice anglers start to build skills, and more experienced anglers tune up their cast.

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of Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, and a Colorado Native Cutthroat Trout restoration presentation and discussion by Colorado Parks and Wildlife Aquatic Biologist Daniel Brauch. Each year, the highlight of the camp’s conservation agenda is completing a conservation project. This year we cleaned out an eroded irrigation ditch at a Forest Service livestock holding area. The campers removed built up sediment and brush from an irrigation ditch. From this firsthand experience, they clearly were able to see the confluence of agriculture and habitat restoration, and recognize the relationship between effective irrigation practices and conserving trout habitat. This class completed one

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of the most physically demanding projects in the history of the camp, cheerfully and with great gusto. It was so gratifying to see the campers running along the ditch, following the water as it was released into the newlycleaned ditch. The campers come to camp to fish, and they represent all skill levels when they arrive. We kick off the skills instruction with casting, and novice anglers learn the basics while more experienced anglers work on advanced casting skills. Campers learn fly tying skills by formal instruction and informal free tying time. They learn entomology, and survey aquatic macroinvertebrates and water chemistry at every fishing location. Through these exercises

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Campers pose at the new Gunsight Bridge in Gothic, CO a former 1800’s coal mining and extraction site after a tour of the wetlands restoration completed by the Crested Butte Land Trust. At this site, campers had the opportunity to learn about the collaboration of communications, public relations, science, engineering, fundraising, and logistics required to initiate and shepherd a restoration project.

Campers identify and sort aquatic macroinvertebrates on the Taylor River. They count Order and Family abundances, and estimate stream health index from the data. At the end of the week they do a comparative data analysis from each fishing location. They also learn the relationship to making better fly selections prior to entering a river.

Campers rig up prior to a fishing excursion on Willow Creek in Taylor Park.

Staff volunteer, Mark Sheedlo coaches a novice angler in landing a trout.


Longtime Staff volunteer and co-director, Dick Shinton leads fly tying lessons. Campers learn basic fly tying skills through executing a number of classic and standard patterns.

Guest speaker and Shavano Conservation District Education Coordinator, Mendy Stewart leads campers through a hydrology and wetlands exercise using the NRCS Riparian Trailer. The trailer offers a unique hands-on learning environment to explore cause and effect using inquiry-based learning. Campers explore human impacts and water management scenarios.

Campers enjoy time connecting with their peers and making new friends.

A camper releases a rainbow trout at Roaring Judy Ponds. Campers learn KeepEmWet fish handing and catch-and-release practices. They also learn many aspects of fly fishing ethics as part of becoming future stewards.


Campers put their youth and muscle into giving back through a conservation project. Our crew cleared out about 300 yards of Forest Service irrigation ditch, restoring its function so that diversion water was no longer wasted.

Campers observe aquaculture at Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery in Almont, CO. They participated in an extensive tour of operations, covering both the Kokanee salmon and rainbow trout rearing that is done at the hatchery.

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they observe firsthand the connection between water quality, habitat location, and fly fishing. They also learn knots, leaders and rigging. Skills are reinforced with games and competitions. Fishing time is always a favorite with the campers. The high runoff this year presented a challenge, but we were able to find accessible water above Taylor Reservoir and at Roaring Judy Ponds. The camp staff members pair up with a couple of campers and essentially guide them. We teach the campers how to read the water, select flies, and coach them through how to fish a location, hook up, and land trout. Connecting with others and making lifelong friendships is always a highlight of camp. Since our campers come from all over the state and beyond, they don’t usually know each other when they arrive. For many, it is a special opportunity to meet peers interested in the same things that they are. They often tell us that they don’t have other friends at home interested in fly fishing and the outdoors like they are. As a result, many lifelong friendships are formed at camp. As a volunteer leader, I find this to be one of the most moving parts of

the camp experience. Wherever these young adults go in their lives, they will always have a friend to stand beside them in a river. The community of camp doesn’t happen without the tremendous effort of our hosts and volunteers. We’re a family that continues to grow with our camp experience. Keri and Ron, the owners of Silent Spring Resort (and parents of a camp Are you interested in learning more alumni), have made about this camp? Do you know a a safe and welcoming good candidate camper? Contact site for our campers for the past 2 years. Barbara. Luneau@coloradotu.org Our staff includes 11 volunteers from chapters all over the state FULL that give a full week of their timeCOLOR to support the camp program. Half of our staff includes camp alumni as both adult and junior counselors. The commitment to come back year after year says a lot about the passion these young people have for camp. It is a real privilege for all of us to become mentors for the Class of 2019, and continue the legacy of the camp’s founders - Sharon Lance and Larry Quilling. DVD

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Campers rig up prior to a fishing excursion on Willow Creek in Taylor Park.

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FIT TO BE TIED

BY JOEL EVANS

H and L Variant

L

iving in Colorado, I am surrounded by magnificent terrain that gives birth to many trout waters. There are many other equally incredible waters throughout the world. I’ve visited a few. Recently, a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park put me on some of our nation’s fabled waters. Of particular note was the Yellowstone River. To understand the river, one must first know something of the lake. Yellowstone Lake is one of the largest natural lakes in the country. The native trout of Yellowstone Lake is the Yellowstone cutthroat, a unique strain of cutthroat.

On a side note, the Yellowstone cutthroat is threatened by an invasive species, the lake trout. Lake trout are a welcome and prized trophy fish in other waters, but not here. These trout eat the cutthroat and threaten to decimate the fishery. But back to the cutts. Being lake fish, they grow big—much bigger than a similar river fish. While one can fish them in the lake, for river fishing, the window of opportunity is short. In most lake situations, trout migrate to the lake inlet and travel upstream to spawn. In Yellowstone, they move to the lake outlet and travel downstream. To protect the spawners, the season

is closed at the beginning of the spawning season, which is June into July in the short seasons of Yellowstone. But come July 15, most of the lake fish have returned to the lake, so the season is opened to river fishing. But there are still lake fish—big fish—in the river for a time. And I was there at the right time—the day after opening day in the middle of the week. So July 16 found me on the river at Buffalo Ford, with a few other fishermen with the same intent. I could write the fishing details of the day, but to get to the fly tying part, fish were visible in the clear, braided current, and an occasional riser verified their holds. But what would

About The Author

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Joel Evans is a fly fishing writer, photographer, and long-time member of Trout Unlimited from Montrose, CO. You can contact him via the HCA editor at frank@hcamagazine.com.

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H AND L VARIANT HOOK: THREAD: TAIL: BODY: HACKLE: WING:

#10 - 16 DRY FLY BROWN, 6/0 WHITE CALF TAIL PEACOCK, PARTIALLY STRIPPED BROWN OR FURNACE WHITE CALF TAIL

they take? In between changing flies, I observed among the other anglers a similar frustration as my own. Many casts, an occasional looker, a few hookups up and down the river, but nothing steady. After a number of fly changes, my vest fly patch was like a fly box unto itself – big and small, wet and dry. Then came the H and L Variant. Bam! The tussle was on. These fish go well over 20 inches. Quickly leaving the pocket water sanctuary, my cutt delved into the adjacent current and gave the rod a significant, I can’t do much, bend. But graphite flex, a worthy drag, and a secure knot prevailed. There are many patterns in our ever-expanding encyclopedia of fly patterns. In my early fly fishing experiences, there was a local discount department store—not a fly shop—going out of business. On clearance, I bought several dozen H and L www.HCAezine.com

Variants, not having fished them before. Also called House and Lot, history refers to the originator selling flies to buy a lot and a house to live in. I had some

great days with that pattern. So full circle, I returned to that pattern on the Yellowstone. So should you.

Save 10% - Use Promo Code HCA1703 Offer Expires 12/31/2019

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The Cutthroat Collaboration

TU Volunteers and agency staff working together to stock Greenback Cutthroats in Herman Gulch. 2018. Photo Credit: Dan Omasta


by Dan Omasta


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t was another beautiful, blue-sky morning in Colorado when droves of vehicles began pouring into the Herman Gulch Trailhead just east of Loveland Pass. Over ninety people showed up to help hike fiveinch Greenback Cutthroat fingerlings into the remote recovery site that summer day. Interspersed among the fifty-five TU volunteers were professionals sporting the standard-issue US Forest Service green and beige, Bureau of Land Management wildland firefighter emblems, and Colorado Parks and Wildlife hats. That effort, like many recovery projects, included a hearty mix of government staff, non-profit partners, and community volunteers – the perfect picture highlighting the diversity of players in the native trout recovery process.

water drainages long before human settlement in the area. The Greenback Cutthroat (Colorado’s state fish), the Rio Grande Cutthroat, three distinctive strains of Colorado River Cutthroat (Colorado/Gunnison, White/Yampa, and San Juan), and the Yellowfin from the Arkansas basin. Aside from the Yellowfin, all of these cutthroat lineages remain on the landscape today, but under very impacted conditions. For decades, Federal agencies (Bureau of Land Management, US Forest Service, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service) have teamed up with state and local governments (Colorado Parks and Wildlife and counties), private land owners, and nonprofits like Trout Unlimited and the Western Native Trout Initiative to stabilize and recover our state’s cutthroat legacy. Fish don’t know the difference between The Recovery Partners a section of stream on National Forest land versus priThere were once six unique strains of cutthroat vate property, and this fact demands a collaborative trout in Colorado that occupied much of the cold- process to recovery programs. In Colorado, native trout recovery teams are spread across the landscape and focus on specific lineages – Map of the proposed continually monitoring the status of each fish popuUpper Poudre Headwaters lation and working in collaboration to generate the funding and resources needed to restore and reclaim Greenback Recovery Project habitat for these threatened fish. “Conservation of these species requires a unified, collaborative effort among all stakeholders - we all need to work together to be successful,” explains Therese Thompson, Program Coordinator for the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI).  “WNTI is a collaborative, multi-state approach that requires the involvement of a wide range of partners – from state and federal agencies to private individuals to conservation-minded organizations and corporations.  We provide a forum for partners to coordinate and invest their collective expertise and assets toward completing the highest-priority, native trout conservation efforts across 12 western U.S. states.”

Showing Signs of Success

The success of these collaborative processes can be seen in the projects spread across the landscape. Hermosa Creek, near Durango, is a great example of a large-scale reclamation project for Colorado River cutthroat trout. Over the course of several years, one piece at a time, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the San Juan National Forest – with financial and volunteer help from the Five Rivers Chapter of TU – have secured a large connected habitat for native 64

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Volunteers hiking Greenback cutthroat up Dry Gulch, 2019. Photo: Dan Omasta, Colorado TU

trout across 23 miles of the East Fork and mainstem of Hermosa Creek. With an added bipartisan assist from Congressman Scott Tipton and Senator Michael Bennet, the watershed now benefits from strong protection as the first federally-designated “Watershed Protection Area” under the 2014 Hermosa Creek Watershed Protection Act. In the South Platte basin, hundreds of TU volunteers have worked alongside Colorado Parks and Wildlife and recovery partners to restore habitat and reintroduce the “true” Greenback Cutthroat Trout lineage back into its native watershed. Starting with only a few hundred fish in Bear Creek outside of Colorado Springs, thousands of threatened Greenbacks now populate five different bodies of water, with more rewww.HCAezine.com

covery sites on the way. “We could not do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Aquatic Biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife. In 2018, Colorado Trout Unlimited was presented a Volunteer Service Award from the US Fish and Wildlife Service regional office for efforts to support Greenback recovery in the state.

Looking Forward

“The collaboration and coordination that is currently occurring among the agencies and partners for the recovery of the Greenback Cutthroat trout and other cutthroat trout in Colorado is quite amazing and is producing solid steps towards recovery of the species,” suggests Leslie Ellwood, Fish and Wildlife Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife and US Fish and Wildlife Service working with Trout Unlimited volunteers to capture, sort, and spawn Greenback broodstock in Zimmerman Lake, CO. Photo Credit: Dan Omasta, Colorado TU

Biologist for the US Fish and Wildlife Service. With the increasing use of eDNA sampling and more accurate gene identification technology, recovery teams are finding more populations of cutthroats that have unique genetic qualities. While the debate of how to characterize such differences is still prevalent among fisheries biologists, the technology has helped land mangers identify what kinds of cutthroats they have in their streams, and what level of protection or recovery is necessary. This process has led to the recent rediscovery of the San Juan lineage of the Colorado River Cutthroat, which was thought to be extinct until lab results confirmed the DNA samples in 2018. Partners are also focusing more on large-scale habitat reclamation projects outside of a single stream in order to create habitat that can support “metapopulations” of native trout. These are areas where trout are separated over a large area but consist of the same species. Projects like this help establish redundancy for these threatened species in the face of climate change and other possible stressors. 66

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In fact, the interagency Greenback Recovery Team and TU are in the early stages of a major project to reclaim a significant amount of trout habitat in the upper Cache la Poudre River headwaters. Completion of all project elements is expected to take more than 10 years, but when completed will provide for a connected metapopulation of trout across the watershed – the largest such restored native trout habitat in Colorado. The native trout restoration project will span more than 40 miles of connected river and multiple lakes, as well as Long Draw Reservoir itself.

Conclusion

While boots in the stream are a big part of the native trout recovery process, a significant portion of the work is done behind the scenes by recovery partners. The monitoring, permitting, project design, engineering, fundraising, rearing, and policy work all lead to eventual reclamation and stocking in the field. These efforts truly take a village. Cooperation and collaboration are critical to the success of native trout recovery in Colorado, and Trout Unlimited is proud to be a www.HCAezine.com


Fin sampling for a unique cutthroat strain in the Dolores River headwaters. Photo Credit: Duncan Rose

part of this partnership. And those 90 folks helping to reintroduce greenbacks this summer? Their project at Herman Gulch was a big success in 2019 – resulting in more than 1,200 Greenback Cutthroat Trout returning to their native waters. This effort would not have happened without the agency partners, donors, businesses, and volunteers that are committed to the mission of native trout recovery and driven to make it happen by working together.

About The Author Dan Omasta is a Grassroots Coordinator for Colorado TU. He joined TU in Feb. of 2017, where he works to coordinate statewide campaigns related to public lands and native trout restoration. You can reach him via the Colorado TU website at www.coloradotu.org.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife stand with young conservationists helping to hike Greenbacks into Dry Gulch on July 16, 2019. Photo: Dan Omasta, Colorado TU. www.HCAezine.com Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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A Wild & Scenic Partnership for the South Platte www.HCAezine.com

by Colorado TU Staff photos by Josh Duplechian Fall 2019 • High Country Angler

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I

n 1990, EPA Administrator Bill Reilly vetoed the proposed Two Forks Dam, at the confluence of the South Platte River and its North Fork, under the Clean Water Act. It was the culmination of more than a decade of intense conflict that involved Denver Water, suburban water providers, west slope entities, and environmental interests - including Trout Unlimited. As participants in one of the great battles of Colorado’s water wars, these diverse parties had little trust in each other and certainly no love lost – yet somehow in the aftermath of the momentous Two Forks decision, they came together to craft an innovative and cooperative river protection plan that has served the South Platte River well for 15 years – and it is still going strong.

out because they feared restrictions designed to preserve the river’s outstandingly remarkable values would prevent even the most basic aspects of water operations, including sediment control. Of course, the environmental community wanted those river values protected. And, we knew that a denial of suitability would have precluded wild and scenic designation at any time in the future.” The battle lines were drawn for another round in the South Platte river water wars, but a funny thing happened on the way to battle between those looking to put a final nail in the Two Forks coffin and those seeking to kill the concept of a Wild and Scenic South Platte. “We pulled back and said, instead of risking all or nothing, isn’t there some other middle road here?” explains McLoud. “Couldn’t we develop The Beginnings a local alternative that focused on protecting the valPrior to the Two Forks decision, the US Forest ues of the stream?” Service had assessed segments of the South Platte River and its North Fork for possible protection Building the Alternative under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act. A “wild and Denver Water and municipal water supply interscenic” river is one that is free flowing in character ests approached the Forest Service, asking for time to and supports one or more “outstandingly remark- develop an alternative for the Wild and Scenic study, able values.” Some segments of the South Platte from a local plan that achieved river protection through Eleven Mile Canyon through its North Fork conflu- other means. The Forest Service agreed, and the real ence and the North Fork below Bailey were indeed work began. Could a diverse set of interests – from free-flowing, and they supported outstanding values water suppliers to anglers, county governments to including fish, wildlife, recreation, geology, scenery, off-highway-vehicle users, state fish and wildlife and cultural/historic values. Under the Act, the For- managers to whitewater enthusiasts – find enough est Service was to evaluate whether these eligible common ground to develop a local river protection reaches were “suitable” for designation and should program that was as good, or better than, Wild and be recommended to Congress for a vote. During Scenic designation? the battle over Two Forks, this question had been set The first challenge was developing working relaaside, but once EPA vetoed the project, the Forest tionships and enough trust to have real negotiations. Service began taking the next steps toward conduct- “There was a lot of skepticism and mistrust on both ing its Wild and Scenic suitability study. One battle sides,” said Krol. “I think the biggest problem was for the future of the South Platte had just been fought that the focus in the beginning was on our differ– but another loomed. ences.” Rick McLoud of the Centennial Water and SanitaCTU Executive Director David Nickum – who tion District explains the concerns of the metro-area was then the Southern Rockies Regional Director water suppliers. “We didn’t feel the Wild and Scenic for National Trout Unlimited – agrees. “It was easy process recognized the existing use of the river as the to fall back to our positions – for Wild and Scenic main vehicle for delivering water to the metro area,” or against it, keeping the Two Forks dream alive or he said. “It was too rigid, would put too many abso- killing it for good. But as we talked more and got to lute limitations on how the river might be used in the know each other better, the conversation began to future, and it just wasn’t realistic.” shift. Instead of arguing about our positions, we be“We were headed for a train wreck,” recalls former gan to talk about our interests – and that made all the CTU President Tom Krol. “The possibility of a suit- difference in finding common ground.” ability designation had the water providers freaked As the diverse stakeholders came to understand 70

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Help us guide the river conservationists and scientists of tomorrow.

Consider making a gift in support of Colorado Trout Unlimited this CO Gives Day on December 10, 2019.

50 years protecting rivers, and we're just getting started. www.HCAezine.com

coloradogives.org/ColoradoTU

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their respective interests, the effort to develop an alternative broke into a series of working groups tackling different particular issues – such as water quality and watershed health; stream flows; recreation; funding for projects; and the all-important question of what to do about Two Forks. Progress came slowly and negotiations stretched on over multiple years. “I remember how many times we almost walked away from the table,” said Krol. “But we got there.”

Platte (CUSP). And that was a good thing, because in the latter part of the negotiations, disaster hit the area in the form of the 2002 Hayman Fire. “Thank heavens for CUSP,” said Nickum. “It has been such a critical part of addressing the South Platte’s health and its recovery from the Hayman fire. CUSP has brought millions of dollars and countless volunteer hours to stabilizing the watershed and advancing its recovery from the fire, along with other watershed health efforts. If CUSP had been the only The Plan result of the South Platte Protection Plan efforts, it The years of stakeholder negotiations and working would be enough to call it a success.” groups gradually built the different pieces that would As negotiations on issue after issue came to fruicome to make up the South Platte Protection Plan. tion, two lingering points of contention remained. Whereas Wild and Scenic designation is best known How could the agreement be effectively enforced? for what it prohibits – permits for dams on designated And how should the plan address the underlying reaches and restrictions on federal actions that could question of whether the South Platte was – or was not impair a river’s outstandingly remarkable values – the – suitable for Wild and Scenic designation? South Platte Protection Plan included many affirmative measures to benefit the river. Final Pieces The elephant in the room was always Two Forks. Negotiations on the final components of the plan The South Platte Protection Plan ultimately reflected were co-chaired by Charlie Jordan of Denver Water a compromise: water suppliers would agree to forever and TU’s Nickum. “Dave and Charlie really became protect Eleven Mile and Cheesman Canyons from effective moderators for the process,” remembers new water development projects, with Denver Water Krol. “Which freed me up to be more of an advocate.” abandoning its conditional water rights for the larger Recognizing how important good faith was to fiversion of Two Forks that would have inundated por- nalizing – and successfully implementing – this kind tions of Cheesman Canyon. Denver Water would re- of plan, Krol worked with several other committee tain its existing 1931 Right of Way for a smaller (but members to seek a solution that would promote that still large – 345,000 acre feet) version of Two Forks good faith from all parties. What if the Forest Service’s – but would put in place a 20-year moratorium on Wild and Scenic suitability study didn’t actually come any applications to develop that right. In the interim, to a conclusion about suitability? Would the desire to stakeholders would work with Denver to pursue less remain on the common ground that had been found environmentally-harmful alternatives for develop- – and the fear of being the loser should a “winner take ment of the “Two Forks Yield.” Sufficient progress on all” approach proceed – be enough to hold the group this issue could ultimately render Two Forks unneces- together? sary and impractical and result in Denver relinquishThe parties decided to give it a try. “We decided ing the Right of Way. that the best way to enforce the agreement – and to “Did we get all that we wanted?” asked Krol. “No. solve the suitability question at the same time – was to But it was a chance to make Two Forks moot, which is ask the Forest Service to defer a decision on suitabilwhat we thought was most important.” ity, but also include a reopener,” explained Nickum. Alongside the Two Forks discussions, workgroups “If the Plan failed or commitments weren’t honored, also developed plans for streamflow management, the Forest Service would reopen its study and move wildlife and recreation, an endowment to fund proj- forward with a decision on suitability. That gave evects, and water quality and watershed health. That erybody something to gain by staying at the table – final piece had begun to take shape even before the and something to lose by walking away.” full South Platte Protection Plan was submitted to the In 2004, Forest Supervisor Robert Leaverton Forest Service – as the interested stakeholders came signed a record of decision officially adopting the together to establish the Coalition for the Upper South South Platte Protection Plan while deferring any final www.HCAezine.com

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resolution of Wild and Scenic suitability. In explaining his decision, Leaverton wrote “I believe that the South Plate Protection Plan offers the best available means of protecting the river values that have been identified. It has many strengths: its breadth of support indicates a good prospect for successful implementation; it provides benefits than can be required under my current authorities; it allows coordinated work on important issues affecting the rivers; and it defines an area of agreement regarding water development that a wide range of interests can live with.”

The Plan in Action

Those strengths have been on display over the 15 years since the Plan went into effect. Commitments made under the Streamflow Management Plan have been met by Aurora and Denver Water every day of the year through all 15 years, from the depths of drought to high water years. The South Platte Enhancement Board, established to oversee the Plan endowment, has issued more than $600,000 in grants to protect and enhance the South Platte’s outstandingly remarkable values. Just as importantly, the spirit of

cooperation developed over the years of negotiation has survived and thrived. “It has been an unbelievable, unqualified success,” said McLoud. ““The hard feelings of Two Forks seem to have melted away, and we’ve moved beyond that to work together.” “What an incredible resource the South Platte River is,” said Krol. “We had a chance to protect a really important and beautiful resource that hundreds of thousands of people enjoy, and I think we pulled it off.” The Plan also served as a model for other Wild and Scenic alternative processes, including on the Colorado River where negotiations produced agreement for one of the state’s largest ever instream flow water right filings. Is there a lesson here? Krol suggests one. “An adversary is not an enemy,” he said. “You can certainly make enemies of your adversaries if you want to, but if you go into a negotiation wanting to come out with a win-win, you have a great chance of getting there.”

To Learn More. To learn more about this story and Colorado Trout Unlimited, visit coloradotu.org.

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South Platte Protection Plan – Key Elements Canyon Protection: No new water development in Eleven Mile and Cheesman Canyons; 20-year moratorium on any application for development of the Two Forks Right of Way Recreation and Wildlife: Denver Water properties available for joint recreational management; Forest Service adopted Forest Plan amendment with provisions to protect habitat along the river corridor South Platte Enhancement Fund: $1 million endowment established to enhance and protect resource values on the South Platte and North Fork; managed by the multi-stakeholder South Platte Enhancement Board Streamflow Management: Guaranteed minimum flows, and target flow guidelines, for releases from Spinney, Eleven Mile, and Cheesman Reservoirs; ramping rates and consideration of whitewater boating on Roberts Tunnel releases; releases managed to maintain healthy water temperatures, including new release structure for colder water releases from Eleven Mile Dam Water Quality/Watershed: Coalition for the Upper South Platte established as stand-alone nonprofit conducting monitoring and restoration work for watershed health and water quality protection.

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Stream Management Plans: The Path to Healthy Rivers by Richard Van Gytenbeek

T

hroughout Colorado’s river basins, communities are employing Stream Management Planning (SMPs) to better understand their water resources and how to utilize those resources in the face of growth and an increasingly warmer and drier climate. Also known as Integrated Water Management Plans (IWMPs), SMPs evolved as the basin roundtables struggled to understand and quantify the environmental needs of rivers in the context of this changing climate while respecting the rights of consumptive water users. To address these challenges the CWCB, consumptive water users and nonconsumptive users like TU committed countless hours to the new Colorado Water Plan (CWP). The new plan created measurable objectives for SMPs and enabled a new funding source through the Colorado Water Conservation Board’s Stream Restoration Program to support the effort. As originally intended, SMPs are environmentally focused and initially met with apprehension from consumptive water users. Understanding that concern, the CWCB and grant applicants have worked to pair SMP funding with other funding sources to ensure that consumptive water right holders have a seat at the table and that their water rights are respected. These collaborative processes (often termed IWMPs) are already generating lists of multiple use, multiple benefit projects that improve water use for agricultural, municipalities, recreation and the environment. For instance, many agricultural producers struggle with aging irrigation infrastructure. These antiquated diversions often block fish passage and entrain fish in the ditch systems. SMPs identify the need for change, the multiple benefits and the willingness of partners to make positive change. This in turn provides the basis for additional grant 78

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funding to execute the identified project. IWMPs also generate innovative water management techniques through community dialogue. When consumptive and non-consumptive water users collaborate, beneficial water use is often a result. Techniques like re-timing releases of reservoir water to improve fall and winter flows for fish or coordinating flood irrigation timing to maximize return flow benefits are examples of how different water uses can compliment rather than conflict with one another. SMPs and IWMPs are underway in many of the river basins around the state. Trout Unlimited was a strong proponent of SMPs during the creation of the CWP and our members and chapters continue to be involved throughout the state. However, if these planning efforts are going to be successful they must be dynamic and ongoing. They are not intended to be a plan in someone’s library, they must be constantly updated, evolving as an integral part of changing communities. If you aren’t already, we encourage TU members and Chapters to get involved and more importantly, stay involved for the long run. If you need help or have a question don’t hesitate to reach out to Colorado TU staff (Dan Omasta Daniel. Omasta@tu.org ) or TU National staff (Richard Van Gytenbeek r.vangytenbeek@tu.org ), we are here to help!!!

To Learn More. To learn more about this story and Colorado Trout Unlimited, visit coloradotu.org.

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THE LAST CAST

JOHN NICKUM

Collaboration & Cooperation = Conservation Success

The conservation, restoration, and enhancement of trout fisheries are central to the mission of Trout Unlimited. Many of TU’s efforts require collaboration with several cooperators and need to be based on solid research evidence that each project has an acceptable probability of success. In your experience as a research biologist, were there some models for cooperation that worked successfully?

Q

I love this question. It speaks to a part of my career that always provides a host of great memories. I was the Unit Leader for the New York Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, located at Cornell University, and also Unit Leader for the Iowa Cooperative Fisheries Research Unit, located at Iowa State University. In my mind, the Cooperative Research Units for fisheries (and for wildlife) were the most successful cooperative conservation programs ever developed. Before I provide a few success stories for the Cooperative Research Units, a little background information about jurisdictional matters for fish and wildlife management in the United States will help readers to understand why collaboration is essential. The US constitution includes a principle that all powers and other matters not specifically given to the Federal Government shall be the province of the separate states. The Constitution makes no Federal claim to jurisdiction over resident fish and wildlife animals; therefore fish and wildlife conservation and management programs are under control of the individual states.

A

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The Migratory Bird Treaty Acts and the Endangered Species Act take precedence over the principle of state authority. In the cases of migratory birds and endangered species, Acts of Congress and, in the case of birds, international treaties, give authority to the Department of the Interior and its agencies. States must abide by the policies and requirements established by the Federal government. The lack of Federal management authority for resident species, combined with the “wandering movements” of fish and wildlife across State lines leads to many situations that are ecologically unsound. Management needs to be consistent across the entire fish or wildlife population, and not different from state to state. The absence of uniform regulations and management across state lines hurts the fish and other wildlife. For example, the needs of trout in the North Platte do not change when the river enters Wyoming. Successful management of resident fish and wildlife populations requires the individual States to collaborate with each other and an array of conservation organizations, such as Trout Unlimited, Ducks Unlimited, and the Wildlife Management Institute. How can this be accomplished? Back in the Dust Bowl days of the 1930s, political cartoonist Ding Darling produced numerous cartoons portraying conservation and environmental management problems. A far-sighted man, he also proposed solutions. One of his solutions for better resource management was a cooperative effort using the combined skills of State wildlife agencies, a Federal wildlife agency (Fish and Wildlife), and State universities, such as Iowa State University and/or Virginia Polytechnic Institute and University (VPI). Under Darling’s plan, the Fish and Wildlife Service would station two or three

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senior biologists at a State land grant university that had a wildlife department, while the university supplied office space, administrative support, and laboratory space and equipment. The Federal staff people would also be university faculty, if properly qualified. They would be responsible for teaching graduate students, providing extension services to the public, and conducting high quality research. Research needs identified by the State and Federal partners would guide the program. The Cooperative Wildlife Research Unit concept was initiated at Iowa State University in 1932. Its success led to establishing a national program in 1935. By early 1936, eight additional units had been established at other land grant universities. Locations where research could be conducted in ecological units spanning more than one State were given priority for funding. Iowa hired Paul Errington, a recent PhD graduate from the University of Wisconsin under Aldo Leopold, to become the first Wildlife Research Unit Leader. Building on the successes of the Wildlife Units, enthusiasm mounted for a similar program for

fisheries. Cooperative Fisheries Research Units were authorized in 1960. There are now 43 Units in 40 States. The scope of research and training conducted through the Coop Unit program are far too numerous to list in a brief article. Many of the State and Federal fisheries and wildlife leaders of today received their graduate degrees through the Coop Unit program. Collaborative research activities have been conducted from Alaska to Florida and California to Maine. Using my personal experiences as examples, I conducted research applicable to restoring walleyes in Lake Erie, to rearing Atlantic salmon full life cycle in fresh water, to the effects of channelization on fishes in the Missouri River and the Mississippi River. Nearly every Coop Unit has conducted, and is conducting, research that involves collaboration between two or more States. Cooperation and collaboration across jurisdictional boundaries to accomplish better management at ecosystem levels has been the “secret” to success for Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Research Units.

About The Author John Nickum, is a retired PhD. fishery biologist whose career has included positions as professor at research universities including Iowa State and Cornell University, director of the Fish and Wildlife Service’s fisheries research facility in Bozeman, MT, and science officer for the Fish and Wildlife Service’s Mountain-Prairie Region. He was inducted into the National Fish Culture Hall of Fame in 2008.

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