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CPW proposes increasing Fryingpan River fish catch | Western Colorado

Colorado Parks and Wildlife officials are proposing a change in regulations for one of the area’s most popular trout fishing streams.

CPW is proposing increasing the number of brown trout allowed to be caught in a day from two to four in an effort to control an overabundance of fish that is outgrowing the more sought-after rainbow trout.

The Fryingpan River is one of Colorado’s most iconic fly fishing streams, attracting anglers from all over the country. Fourteen miles of the river from Ruedi Dam to its confluence with the Roaring Fork River is managed by Colorado Parks and Wildlife as a gold medal trout fishery, meaning the stream produces at least 60 pounds of fish per acre. and at least 12 quality trout that are 14 inches or longer per acre.

But in recent years, anglers say they’ve seen a decline in larger rainbow trout and an increase in smaller brown trout.

“I hear a lot of stories about what the river was like and how wonderful it was,” said Jared Zissu, a fisherman who runs a media company focused on fly fishing. “I love going there and it’s still an amazing place, but it’s 99% really small brown trout.”

Data from Colorado Parks & Wildlife supports what Zissu and others have noted. CPW aquatic biologist Kendall Bakich presented her agency’s findings to about 12 members of the public, many of whom were fly fishing guides, at the Carbondale Library on Wednesday.

CPW sampled three popular fishing holes on the river: below the Ruedi Dam, a site known as Toilet Bowl; a place downriver called Old Faithful; and Big Hat, near where Taylor Creek empties into Fryingpan. They discovered that 97% of the fish in the Pan are brown trout; 2% are rainbow trout and 1% are sculpins. And the average size of a brown trout is just 11 inches, short of the 14 inches required for the Gold Medal standard. Seventy percent of anglers who responded to a CPW survey in the fall of 2023 said that your fishing experience could be improved if the fish were bigger.

The Fryingpan far exceeds the 60-pound biomass requirement with 672 pounds of fish per acre. But that’s not necessarily a good thing when small brown trout, whose growth is slowed because they compete with each other for limited food, make up the vast majority.

“Are there too many good things? Biologically we have shown that yes,” said Bakich. “We could start, especially in a dense population like this, to see the disease become a problem.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, Fryingpan waters were primarily inhabited by rainbow trout. But a parasite that causes eddy disease, to which brown trout have a natural resistance, decimated rainbow numbers.

“(Brown trout) are a great competitor, so they will outcompete the rainbows, especially the stressed ones that are suffering from disease,” Bakich said.

CPW stocks rainbow fingerlings at Fryingpan and aims to return the river to a wild-produced rainbow trout fishery.

MORE CATCH AND RELEASE

Current rules on the Fryingpan say anglers can catch two brown trout under 14 inches per day and must discard all other trout.

In an attempt to keep the brown trout population under control, CPW officials propose increasing the number of fish anglers can catch from two to four, the number currently allowed in state regulations. The 14-inch limit can also be reduced, allowing anglers to have larger fish.

But the effectiveness of that approach may be limited because, according to the CPW survey, only 15% of fishermen take their fish home, while 85% practice catch-and-release. The reasons for this vary: around 45% believe catch and release is better for the ecosystem. About 30% said they don’t like processing fish or don’t like its taste.

“A generation ago, maybe they remembered that harvesting was just part of feeding families and supporting yourself, and that was lost a while ago,” Bakich said.

CPW can also remove some of the small brown trout manually, but the general public does not like fish being killed, even if it improves the ecosystem and the fishing experience. It can also be expensive.

“Right now, we’re going to look for the easiest thing and start there,” Bakich said. “Maybe we will be surprised. Maybe suddenly fried fish will be the new thing in Aspen.”

Carbondale resident and fly fishing guide Lani Kitching, who has been fishing at Fryingpan since 1978, said increasing the bag limit from two to four would be helpful. She said that she had participated in fish counts with CPW in the past and that there were so many brown trout that she couldn’t begin to count them all. Catch and release has become the default mode in recent years as there has been an increased focus on environmental issues in the region.

“It’s the spirit we’ve created, right? So it’s up to us,” Kitching said. “Now we have to convince the public that this has long-term consequences.”

Matt Yamashita, CPW Area 8 Wildlife Manager, spoke about what makes Fryingpan special at Wednesday’s meeting.

“He has this aura,” he said. “Many people come here for a once-in-a-lifetime experience. But for people who knew it in the ’80s or ’90s, it’s not that fishery anymore. You’re not going to go there and find the 10-pound rainbow. But it probably still has the potential to become, maybe not exactly the same, but close to what it used to be.”

The change in catch limits would have to be approved by the CPW commission and, if approved, could be implemented beginning with the next fishing season, April 1, 2025. The public can provide comments at https://bit .ly/3UuoEtP.

Aspen Journalism is a nonprofit investigative news organization covering water, the environment, social justice and more. Visit http://aspenjournalism.org.