Category Archives: In the news

Trout Unlimited presents Stream Explorers for students

(reprinted from The Mountain Mail, April 28, 2017, edition)

by Tom Arnot

For several years, Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited has conducted an aquatic ecology program for Salida Middle School students called Stream Explorers.

It begins with collecting macro-invertebrates from the river and extends to students examining the behavior of surrogate fish under varied conditions and concludes with fly-tying instruction and ishing.

This program produces enlightened students and has been so successful as an educational tool that Colorado Trout Unlimited has expanded it to other chapters throughout the country.

More recently, in partnership with the Greater Arkansas River Nature Association, Stream Explorers has been expanded to include Buena Vista. For the Salida classes, we are working to establish a permanent site for collecting data on a parcel owned by the Southwest Conservation Corps.

This site includes 475 feet of South Arkansas River frontage, a permanent pond and adjacent wetlands and is conveniently located within walking distance of Salida schools, immediately upstream of the new pedestrian bridge.

In collaboration with the Central Colorado Conservancy, GARNA and Southwest Conservation Corps, we are currently in the design phase of a project that will transform this site into a permanent, longterm, living laboratory – the Ecosystems Learning Center (ELC).

This project includes restoring the streambed and adjacent riverbank riparian areas and improving stream flows. Potential conversion of a historic barn on the site into a small classroom is also in the works.

By establishing the ELC at this location, students will be able to easily study river proiles, water lows, water quality and perform quantitative studies of fish numbers and health as well as aquatic, terrestrial, amphibious, avian and vegetative organisms, building a database over an extended period.

Although the Stream Explorers program is the core of the ELC, future activities and educational programs will not be limited to students. Public access will ultimately be provided via an extension of the Salida public trail from the new pedestrian bridge. Other local groups and organizations will be able to use the ELC site for classes, workshops and long-term experiments.

The South Arkansas River lows through a mix of ranchland and urban areas as it heads to its junction with the Arkansas River near downtown Salida. Over the years, the South Arkansas has suffered from an array of human impacts that have left it in poor condition.

Natural meanders have been eliminated, resulting in extended shallow stretches that can dry out at low water, stranding ish. Streamside vegetation has disappeared, leaving an absence of cover and structure in the river that provides habitat for ish and the aquatic insects they feed on.

Healthy streamside riparian zones are extremely important to the overall health of a river by improving soil conservation, lood control and habitat diversity.

In 2010, the Central Colorado Conservancy completed the irst comprehensive assessment of the South Arkansas River, which helped identify and prioritize conservation and restoration projects. Since then, the conservancy has been working with landowners to complete streambed rehabilitation and bank stabilization projects at three locations along the river.

Visit www.centralcoloradoconservancy.org for information on the work that has been completed to date.

The ELC is the next step. Collegiate Peaks Chapter, Central Colorado Conservancy, GARNA and Southwest Conservation Corps are actively fundraising, writing grants and committing volunteer labor and in-kind services to make this project a reality. Baseline studies of the prerestoration site have already begun.

Collegiate Peaks Chapter believes this project will foster a local population of young people who know, understand and appreciate the value of our native river ecosystems. These new river stewards will carry on the mission of protecting and improving the quality of the watershed to help ensure future generations will continue to be able to enjoy our local waters.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter, our events and projects, visit our website, http://www.collegiatePeaksTU.org/

Tom Arnot is chapter secretary and current board director of Collegiate Peaks Chapter – Trout Unlimited.

Angler describes the Upper Arkansas River Valley changes

Reprinted from The Mountain Mail.

By Fred Rasmussen

When Jeanne and I purchased our place in the Arkansas River Valley in the late 1970s, there was a tattered Texas gate guarding the narrow rutted cow trail that led through the pinon/juniper to the property.

The J-shaped trail led west then through and over the rocks in Sand Creek, which was passable when the water wasn’t running. But it did not connect to the highway on the other end.

The Texas gate was a necessary burden for quite a while because John Smythe still ran cows on some of the land even after he had sold that part of the homestead west of U.S. 285 to Jim Treat. Jim had since subdivided the property into 35-acre lots but had yet to improve the roads and install electricity.

In 1983 three of our sons and I built our passive solar house on that land. Treat had improved the road some, but it still did not run to the highway and there was only one other house in the nearly 600acre subdivision.

As we settled in and began our organic garden, you can imagine there was a rich selection of cow pies to work into the sandy soil.

In the early days there was no phone service. Jeanne had to answer her West Central Mental Health emergency pager by driving to the public phone in Poncha Springs.

Each year, in early spring, the Smythe family atop horses drove their cattle herd up the road past our house to the summer pasture on their U.S. Forest Service grazing lease. Later in the year when the pinon cones were ripe and bursting, friendly families from the San Luis Valley would come and spread their blankets beneath the trees to collect nature’s harvest.

The ecosystem gradually changed during those early years. The big elk herd that moved down to the river and back near our home moved south as more homes were built. The floor of Sand Creek, instead of being barren of plant life, became populated by young long leaf cottonwoods in the absence of hungry cows.

The nearby Arkansas River was different too. Severely polluted by heavy metals from the extensive and uncontrolled mining near Leadville, its fauna were very different from now. Hatchery rainbows were the fishing target and were heavily planted to please the tourists and local fishermen.

The brown trout, seriously affected by the heavy metals, rarely lived beyond 3 years and so there were few large fish. One exception, the river section below the Salida Water Treatment Plant was known for producing the largest fish because the effluent from the plant was a food source for algae and insects.

The insect population then was dominated by the more pollution tolerant Brachycentrus caddis. In the spring the rocks in the river from Buena Vista to Canon City were covered with blankets of their caddis cases. They were present by the millions and were the major food source for the trout.

The river was known statewide for the blizzards of caddis that hatched along U.S. 50. The spring hatches of baetis and midges provided reasonable fishing but nothing spectacular. In the summer you could find the occasional yellow sally, PMD, black quill or net-building caddis.

Later the EPA determined that the toxic metals in the water were bad for people and fish. Two water filtering plants were built near Leadville to clean up the river water. Gradually, as the metals were filtered out, the insect populations began to change back to the fine balance that preceded the mining era.

The Brachycentrus gradually had to compete with growing populations of midges, mayflies, other caddis and stoneflies, and their numbers fell drastically. So now we still have a spring caddis hatch, albeit a much smaller one. The new, prolific hatches of mayflies throughout the summer provide an equal biomass to the past caddis hatch but throughout the trout growing season.

Plus, without the heavy metals the brown trout are living for 7 or 8 years, as the current Gold Medal designation and the hordes of happy anglers can attest.

Fred Rasmussen is a founding member and current board director of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter – Trout Unlimited.

Anglers learn humility on the San Juan River

Reposted from The Mountain Mail, November 25 2016 edition.

by Fred Rasmussen, Special to The Mail

Dredging weighted nymphs in deep pools while standing in a cold wind on slippery ice can be tedious, often unsuccessful and usually a chilling experience.

There may be a good day now and then when the midges bring the lethargic browns off the bottom, but they are too few to keep the fishing hormones flowing in most anglers.

“Been fishing” was Sam’s laconic comment as we headed into a winter Trout Unlimited meeting a few years ago. I rolled my eyes.

“How about we head down to the San Juan next week?” he said. “I hear it is hot.”

Before the meeting had ended, we had assembled a small group of dispirited anglers to seek nirvana in New Mexico.

A segment of the San Juan River below Navajo Dam stays about the same temperature year-round as the water is drawn from the bottom of the dam. The aquatic organisms that make up trout food are therefore active and growing while the same organisms in the Arkansas River are taking the winter off. And some trout in those productive waters grow fast and big.

Driving through a snowbound San Luis Valley and over a tame Wolf Creek Pass, Sam and I plotted our strategy. Two points seemed clear, the river would be crowded with fishermen, and the bugs would be tiny. Despite this drawback, we both agreed we had enough experience to do at least moderately well. We were not novices.

Abe’s Motel sprawled uninviting along the dusty roadside as we unloaded our gear into the room. It was still light enough to wet a line before dark, so we suited up and joined the hustling throng.

Lessons came quickly. The San Juan is a slick and difficult river to wade, and a fisherman occupied each of the good spots. And if there were fish in the river, we had no evidence of it.

Supper was strategy time. There were two San Juan veterans in our group from the chapter who had fished this section of the river many times. So clumped around a motel table loaded with pretzels, salami, bread and pickles, Sam and I picked the brains of Clyde and Paul.

We listened intently as they gave lesson No. 1: “San Juan Worms, size 16. Just drift them deep, near the bottom and the fish will do the rest.”

Excited with the truth, we set off with glee next morning. But despite fishing hard and diligently all day, we released only three or four fish between us.

By contrast, Clyde and Paul seemed to have a fish on every time we looked. This combined with a river full of drifting algae, which meant the hook had to be carefully cleaned off about every cast. Another day of anguishing realization of our lousy fishing status.

Lesson No. 2 came that evening over a lovely chilled pitcher of beer. Well, actually Clyde said, “Today we had a No. 20 dark nymph behind the San Juan Worm, and that was what the fish were actually hitting.”

Solace for our wounds. It was not we who were failing, it was the tackle we were using.

But the next day was a repeat of the first two. Even after adding the tiny black nymph to the San Juan Worm, Sam and I caught and released only a few fish while our two friends seemed to catch fish at will.

They were masters at maneuvering that tiny insect to the very select places along the river bottom where the fish were feeding. They knew the river currents and had models in their heads of how those currents influenced fish behavior. Sam and I just fished.

The drive home was a long lesson in humility about how much more we had to learn about the skills of fishing the tail waters of the San Juan River if we were to be successful.

For more information about Collegiate Peaks Chapter and our events, visit our website: collegiatepeaksTU.org.

Fred Rasmussen is a founding member and current board director of the Collegiate Peaks Chapter of Trout Unlimited.