DENTRY: Antero fish kill leads to tougher limits, halving catch

Regardless of the cause, all those dead trout floating belly up at Antero Reservoir lately should be called what they were: a fish kill.In the four weeks since it opened, the crowds have loved - and some have cheated - Antero to death, or at least to the point where wildlife commissioners felt obliged to pass emergency regulations Monday, halving legal limits.

A gasoline tanker didn't roll over in the popular South Park reservoir, but it might as well have.

Thousands of trout died, not counting those that went home in coolers. The decomposing floaters, most of them former rainbow trout 18 to 22 inches long, drifted ashore abundantly.

The culprit was hooking mortality exacerbated by too many people fishing, sloppy fish-release techniques and water temperatures too high for trout to play the angling game.

"It's unacceptable," said Eddie Kochman, retired fisheries chief for the Division of Wildlife. He described dead fish with "gills torn apart, torn mandibles and bleeding gill filaments. Two had monofilament sticking out of their mouths where it had been cut."

Culling trout, the practice of swapping out smaller kept trout for bigger ones, is part of the problem.

"Culling is illegal," South Park district wildlife manager Mark Lamb said.

"A lot of people put fish in live wells, which I've renamed death wells because trout don't do well in them. Some of them catch a 22-inch fish and think they can let the 19-incher go.

"Mostly, what it comes down to is people are not releasing fish properly," he said.

"That life or death struggle trying to keep from being pulled out of the water takes so much of their energy and reserve that the extra stress of being out of the water puts the nail in the coffin.

"No matter how much time you spend trying to revive them, they might swim away, but five minutes later you've got a fish belly up. It's ugly."

Nature has intervened in the past few days with water so warm and poor in oxygen that Antero's fish appetites have waned.

Neil Sperandeo, recreation manager for Denver Water, Antero's owner, said bank fishing has turned sour. Wildlife division biologist Jeff Spohn said there are fewer floaters now that fishing success has sagged.

Sperandeo said overwhelming attendance created most of the problems when Antero opened July 17 after being closed for five years.

"We're getting pounded," he said. "We expected it to subside after the opening weekend, but it hasn't."

He laments that Antero has been overrun with trucks, trailers and RVs, is overflowing with trash despite Denver Water's best efforts and smells of dead fish.

But he hesitates to shut the reservoir down, which Denver Water could do.

Meanwhile, concerned anglers and fish managers met with wildlife commissioners Monday and hashed out the emergency regulations.

For 90 days, bag and possession limits at Antero are reduced from four fish to two. Length restrictions formerly allowing only one fish over 16 inches are dropped.

"Doing away with the tape measure saves time and saves stress on the fish," said Commissioner Brad Coors, who led the charge to bring some relief to Antero's prize trout.