Native Trout

Rare cutthroat trout in Abrams Creek will see improved stream habitat

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Trout Unlimited, Colorado Parks and Wildlife and the Buckhorn Valley Metropolitan District No. 1 (District) completed their ambitious restoration project on Abrams Creek to preserve a rare population of cutthroat trout threatened in part by reduced flows during irrigation season.

Among other benefits, increased flows are expected to:

  • Increase physical/wetted 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.

Moreover, a permanent fish screen will be 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.

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.



Restoring Rivers with Can'd Aid

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This summer, Colorado Trout Unlimited teamed up with Can’d Aid to help restore rivers in Colorado. Can’d Aid is a nonprofit organization that was founded as an immediate response to the massive flooding that devastated the towns of Lyons & Longmont, CO, in September 2013. Since then, the organization has been helping spread people powered do-goodery when and where it is needed most.

On July 13, volunteers generously came out to help restore a section of the Gore Creek in Vail, CO. This river has seen some hard times and have been labeled unhealthy since 2004. To help this river on it’s path to recovery, volunteers planted willows and lodgepole pines to anchor the heavily eroded riverbeds. This effort will protect the river from further erosion while also improving the habitat for fish and other wildlife. Colorado Trout Unlimited is proud to have partnered up with Can’d Aid, River Restoration Adventures for Tomorrow, Eagle Valley TU, and the City of Vail to make this a successful day!

Can’d Aid projects like this are supported through  Wild Basin Boozy Sparkling Water, which donates $1/case sold.

Did you know that you can replant a willow tree simply by cutting a branch and sticking it in the ground? They’re hearty plants that provide protection for riverbank erosion while also lending much-needed shade to fish and wildlife.
— Can'd Aid

On July 20, 2019, volunteers gathered at the Gunnison River to monitor last year’s progress and continue their work to help restore habitat in the Basin. Volunteers floated to the 2018 work site and found many of the willows that were planted the previous year growing strong - despite the severe drought in 2018 and high Spring flows in 2019. This was a promising sight to see the volunteer work was taking root!

Small but mighty: A patriotic super volunteer!

Small but mighty: A patriotic super volunteer!

Restoration work in 2019 took place beyond the banks of the Gunnison River. 25 volunteers spent the day building "one rock damns" in Dutch Gulch. These mulch damns slow the flow of water, prevent erosion and reconnect gullies to flood plains.

Ultimately, they trap sediment and extend flows in low water years - promoting long-term river health and grazing for deer, elk and the threatened Gunnison Sage Grouse! 

After a morning of intensive rock work, the group got on the river once again to celebrate a job well done.

Check out more pictures on the Can’d Aid facebook post here. Also, CBS 4 News shared a video of the day, see below!

The group from Can'd Aid Foundation worked to prevent erosion.

Thank you to all the people and organizations that volunteer their time to protect rivers in Colorado. Your efforts are crucial to the places we love to play, float, hike and fish!

Please follow and support our collaborative partners below!

Rare Hayden Cutthroats have a new home!

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Editor’s Note:

Rick Helmick, Director on the Collegiate Peaks TU Chapter Board, brings us a story about 4,500 rare Cutthroat offspring being released into their new home, Cottonwood Creek, after their original home was destroyed by the Hayden Pass wildfire, which burned more than 16,000 acres in the Sangre de Cristo Range three summers ago.  July 1, 2019 the offspring were released into the wild by officials of Colorado Parks and Wildlife accompanied by 40 staff and volunteers from the U.S. Forest Service and Trout Unlimited.

Rare Hayden Cutthroats have a new home!

by Rick Helmick, Director on the Collegiate Peaks TU Chapter Board

It was a dark, ominous, and rainy day ahead of the forty of us, and two mules, as we gathered at the base of the Sangre de Cristo’s, west of Westcliffe, at the Venable Trailhead. All we had to do was carry the offspring of the 158 rare Cutthroats, saved out of Hayden Creek, right in the middle of that 2016 Wildfire that eventually burned 17,000 acres, and destroyed the Cutts that lived there.

When USFS Fisheries Biologist Janelle Valladares called for CPC-TU’s help, we put out the word and had incredible response from volunteers - even as far away as Missouri, and a member from the Southern Colorado Greenbacks Chapter in Pueblo, CO.

What an incredible experience. We are forever grateful for having this experience, Thank you!
— Amber, Volunteer from Missouri
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It was a hard and long trip up this mountain, which did everything but snow on us July 1st (although it did sleet), as the volunteers carried 20 pound bags of 70-80 fingerlings each, and the heavy lifting done by mules carrying panniers all the way to the top. 4,500 of these rare Cutthroats only found in Hayden Creek, now have a new home in Cottonwood Creek!

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It was a huge, and combined effort, of CPW, USFS, TU, Trails for All, and some great public volunteers! CPW plans on several more stockings of additional Hayden Creek Cutthroats, in various other high mountain streams. Thanks to the Collegiate Peaks Chapter for responding to CPW’s call for assistance! We all sincerely hope for the survival of these genetically rare Cutthroat, in their new home.

In the News

https://theknow.denverpost.com/2019/07/08/cutthroat-fingerlings-hayden-pass-wildfire-cottonwood-creek/218721/

https://www.thedenverchannel.com/news/local-news/four-legged-workers-help-colorado-parks-and-wildlife-restore-rare-trout-to-hayden-creek

https://gazette.com/news/rare-indigenous-trout-species-reintroduced-to-colorado/article_84bb75fc-a1c5-11e9-96fc-ab1a52c749a0.html

http://www.cpr.org/2017/07/20/spared-the-wrath-of-wildfire-colorados-hayden-creek-trout-are-on-the-comeback/

From CTU: Thank you Rick for the great recap of the day - what an amazing project!

Native Trout Need Your Help

Young Greenback Cutthroat Native Trout.  Photo by: Neal Bullock/2018

Young Greenback Cutthroat Native Trout.

Photo by: Neal Bullock/2018

After an epic snow year, Spring has finally settled in Colorado - which means great fishing and that Greenback recovery projects are just around the corner!

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The Greenback Cutthroat Trout, once declared extinct, is making a comeback in Colorado – thanks in large part to agency partners and the hundreds of volunteers that have helped spawn, stock, and restore habitat over the past few years.  2019 is poised to be the biggest year yet for Greenback recovery projects and we need your help!  Follow the linked opportunities below to see how you can make a difference for this threatened species and be a part of this historic recovery effort!

Colorado TU works closely with our agency partners to support recovery projects with funding and volunteers.  Your help with spawning, stocking, habitat restoration, and citizen science goes a long way.

Thank you for helping to recover this critical trout species and we look forward to seeing you out there!

VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES

Click any opportunity below to learn more and sign up.

New! Spring 2019 High Country Angler is out!

NEW! High Country Angler Spring 2019

The new spring issue of High Country Angler is now live and you can view it online or download the entire issue for free! This time around you can look forward these stories:

  • A Q& A with Landon Mayer by Frank Martin

  • Still Water Sure Thing: Yellowstone Lake by Brian La Rue

  • Paint By Number Fly Fishing by Peter Stitcher 

  • Your Guide to RMNP by Annie Smith

  • Dry Flies in February by Hayden Mellsop

  • Minturn Anglers by Mark Shulman

  • 50 Years Protecting Rivers by Mike Ledger

  • Corps, EPA Propose Clean Water Act Rollback By David Nickum

  • Public Lands: Best. Idea. Ever by CTU Staff

  • Behind the Fin with Dave Taylor by CTU Staff

  • TU and the Birth of Colorado Instream Flows by CTU Staff

  • Angler's All by CTU Staff

  • Fit to be Tied by Joel Evans

Fishing for Fahrenheit

Guy Turenne and Phil Wright trekking through deep snow to find a buried stream temperature probe on Fall Creek. Photo Credit: Phil Wright, 2019.

Guy Turenne and Phil Wright trekking through deep snow to find a buried stream temperature probe on Fall Creek. Photo Credit: Phil Wright, 2019.

It was a beautiful November day in the high country, as Guy Turenne and Phil Wright climbed their way over drifts of fresh snow along Fall Creek – a tiny tributary in the heart of Colorado’s northern mountains. 

This time, it was not fish that they were after, but a small temperature probe the size of a silver dollar, lying in wait at the bottom of the stream channel.  Months earlier, Guy and Phil, along with dozens of other TU volunteers, worked with the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) to place these loggers in different stream locations throughout the eastern half of the state.

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Fish are heavily affected by temperature – especially trout.  Changes in thermal regimes over the course of a few hours to a few months can trigger fish to spawn, eat, grow, and even breathe.  We all saw stories in the hot, dry summer months of 2018, when low flows and extreme ambient air temperatures brought some rivers to over 79°F.  At that point, dissolved oxygen becomes increasingly scarce and fish can die. 

Stream temperatures also impact the normal day-to-day and cyclic activities of our trout.  For example, Rainbow trout will spawn in the spring when water temperature begins to rise and reaches 45-56 degrees F (52°F is ideal).  Conversely, Brown trout will spawn in the fall as water temperatures drop within 44-48°F.  Each species of trout thrives at different conditions.

So, what does any of this have to do with two TU volunteers hiking through two feet of snow in the middle of Winter?

As it turns out – a lot!  Just as water temperature affects the spawning cycle of Rainbows and Browns, thermal regimes play an important role in the development of Cutthroat trout – in this case, Greenbacks and Rio Grandes.  These fish have evolved over thousands of years to eat, grow, and reproduce at specific thermal conditions in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains.  As Trout Unlimited and native trout recovery partners continue to engage in projects that reclaim habitat and stock native fingerlings, we must ensure that the temperature regimes will support those fish long term.

But collecting that level of data across thousands of miles of small tributaries and remote drainages can pose a challenge to recovery partners.  Fortunately, TU volunteers came to the rescue.

Chris Carroll, aquatic biologist with the U.S. Forest Service teaches TU volunteers how to attach stream temperature probes during April 2018 training.

Chris Carroll, aquatic biologist with the U.S. Forest Service teaches TU volunteers how to attach stream temperature probes during April 2018 training.

With critical funding supplied by the Western Native Trout Initiative (WNTI) and the U.S. Forest Service, volunteers from several chapters helped to identify future habitat for the returning Greenback and Rio Grande Cutthroat.  In the Spring of 2018, the project kicked off with a USFS-led volunteer training during the annual CTU Rendezvous in Keystone.  From that point, chapter representatives recruited and trained their own local group of temperature probe deployment experts. Over the course of the summer, TU volunteers exceeded the original 30-site goal by setting and maintaining over 40 HOBO stream temperature loggers in several key drainages that have potential for recovery sites.

Evergreen TU volunteer, Mike Goldblatt, points to a recently-installed stream temperature probe in the Bear Creek drainage.

“We observed that the RMF membership and other members of the community seem to value stream monitoring efforts in general, are strongly supportive of such efforts, and are willing to volunteer,” explained Phil Wright, project coordinator for the Rocky Mountain Flycasters Chapter. 

As the leaves changed and fell from the trees, TU volunteers went back into the field to collect the data – which was then transferred to biologists at USFS and CPW.  From there, recovery partners will be able to show a better picture of which watersheds will make good candidates for future reintroduction. 

Trout Unlimited volunteers continue to help advance native trout recovery throughout Colorado each year – even winning a regional volunteer service award from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in 2018.  Whether its notching beaver dams, backpacking in fingerlings, or tramping through two feet of powder, TU volunteers are committed and engaged in the recovery of our native trout.  The stream temperature study is another chapter of this important saga – and one that will undoubtedly be the preface for the next wave of native cutthroat recovery sites.  Who knows… maybe one of those streams will be in your backyard!

Colorado Trout Unlimited would like to recognize our valuable partners and chapters who have made this project possible:

Western Native Trout Initiative, the U.S. Forest Service, National Park Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, and Evergreen TU, West Denver TU, Rocky Mountain Flycasters TU, Alpine Anglers TU, Cutthroat Chapter TU, Pikes Peak TU, San Luis Valley TU, and Boulder Flycasters TU.

If you are interested to learn more about this project or volunteer, please visit Colorado TU’s Native Trout Page.

5 Tips for Avoiding Frustrations with Tenkara & Native Greenback Cutthroat

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Tenkara USA's Daniel Galhardo and Colorado Trout Unlimited's Dan Omasta, Grassroots Coordinator recently sat down to talk about CTU's efforts in river conservation and fisheries protections across the state. Omasta discusses the recent policy victories for public lands as well as CTU's programs in youth education and community engagement. They also discussed the true lineage of the native Greenback Cutthroat Trout and why some anglers might be surprised to learn that they have been seeing a hybrid version of Colorado's state fish rather than a true greenback. This is because of recent a study by scientists at the University of Colorado at Boulder, where they found that the pure genetics of the greenback were isolated to ponds just outside of Bear Creek and Bear Creek itself. Take a listen below or read the full transcript of the episode here

Native trout hitch a ride home on the backs of volunteers

Pictured: UpslopeBrewing Co., Western Native Trout Initiative, and Colorado Trout Unlimited. 

Pictured: UpslopeBrewing Co., Western Native Trout Initiative, and Colorado Trout Unlimited. 

CLEAR CREEK, CO – This week, the endangered Greenback Cutthroat Trout got a major boost from Trout Unlimited volunteers and agency partners in Colorado. 

Once thought to be extinct, this rare fish is making a big comeback thanks to the efforts of the Greenback Cutthroat Recovery Team – a partnership that includes the US Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, US Fish and Wildlife, the National Park Service, Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the Western Native Trout Initiative, and Trout Unlimited.

Over the course of two days in mid-July, 1,700 Year 1 Cutthroats (~4-6 inches) made their way into two headwater drainages in the Clear Creek Watershed, an hour west of Denver, CO.  The Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch creeks represent the first major river populations for this threatened species since it was rediscovered in 2012. 

To help agency partners stock these important little fish, over 80 Trout Unlimited volunteers carried the cutthroats in large packs up steep switchbacks and bush-wacked through dense brush to get to the remote rivers.  Some people hiked over six miles into the top of the drainage (over 11,500 feet)! These volunteers came from ten different TU chapters and represented all walks of life – anglers and conservationists coming together to recover this native trout.

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“We couldn’t do it without the volunteers,” says Paul Winkle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist for the Clear Creek Drainage.  It was a major undertaking that took a lot of support from agency staff, non-profit partners, and local businesses.

At Colorado TU, we are very proud of the hard work and dedication that our chapters and volunteers provide to these projects. It shows what can happen when people focus on collaboration and overcoming differences.  It didn’t matter whether someone was young or old, Democrat or Republican, a dry fly purist or never fished before – we were all side by side, climbing those steep trails together. All to save the Greenback.

That's right! Over 80 volunteers and 20+ agency staff from Colorado Parks and Wildlife, US Forest Service, and US Fish and Wildlife service packed up 1700 native Greenback cutthroat trout to be released along Dry Gulch and Herman Gulch on July 16 & 18. These little trout were raised in a hatchery as part of  a statewide effort to restore population's of Colorado's state fish. I'm not sure if you can tell if a fish is happy, but those little guys sure looked excited to be released into their new home. Check out the video spotlight that CBS Local Channel 4 did about the effort, below:

Feeling inspired? Learn more about Native Trout across Colorado - the efforts to protect and restore populations and ways to get involved.

A big shout out to all the volunteers who came out to hike and haul the native trout to their new homes, and to the various groups and agencies that came out to restore Colorado's native fisheries. Read the full story that CBS Channel 4 News did here.

Pictured: Western Native Trout Initiative Sticker and Dublin Dog Co. trout collar. 

Pictured: Western Native Trout Initiative Sticker and Dublin Dog Co. trout collar. 

Thank you to the following:

 

5 tips for fishing the drought

Water temperatures are important to monitor when fishing in the summer. Trout are a coldwater species and therefore respond negatively to warming waters. Need more information about fishing, stream flows. rigging, and locations? Check out our  "Go Fish" page . 

Water temperatures are important to monitor when fishing in the summer. Trout are a coldwater species and therefore respond negatively to warming waters. Need more information about fishing, stream flows. rigging, and locations? Check out our "Go Fish" page

This winter was certainly a tough one for Colorado. Whether you fish small creeks in the high country, irrigate your crops on the Western Slope, or water your lawn in central Denver, we will all be feeling the impacts of the low-water year. According to the latest SNOWTEL analysis offered by the NRCS National Water and Climate Center the percentage of snow-water equivalent (SWE) in Colorado currently ranges from 5% to 44% of normal. While it is true that hydrologic conditions can differ from drainage to drainage – with some areas seeing minimal impact from the low snow totals – overall,

Colorado will see less water in the creeks and rivers this year. Anglers, irrigators, ranchers, municipalities, and recreationalists will all feel the pain this summer, but we are not the only ones. Low flows and hotter days can have serious impacts on fish. With less water and warmer temperatures, the dissolved oxygen content within a stream reach can fluctuate significantly – meaning less holding capacity for fish and bugs. These tough conditions can also affect spawning, migration, and recovery (for example, after being released off the hook).

As anglers, we wait all winter to chase trout during the warmer seasons, but how can we pursue that goal and not over-stress our fisheries? We reached out to our fly shop partners around Colorado and posed that very question:

The fish and wildlife will continue to adapt to these changing conditions, but we can certainly do our part to help them adjust. Take this year as an opportunity to explore new watersheds, improve your handling practices, and better understand your local streams. If you have questions about when and where to fish, you can always ask your local fly shop. 

CONTINUE THE CONVERSATION

 


About the Author

Dan Omasta is the Grassroots Coordinator for Colorado Trout Unlimited, overseeing 24 chapters across the state. 

Hermosa 416 Fire Update: Spreading into Native Colorado River Cutthroat Trout habitat

High Quality map available for download  here .

High Quality map available for download here.

Update from National TU Staffer, Ty Churchwell, San Juan Mountains Coordinator & Sportsmen’s Conservation Project:

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The 416 fire that started June 1, 2018 located 13 miles north of Durango, CO is currently over 35,000 acres large and is at 36% contained as of June 27, 2018 (seen in red outline & fill). Currently, the fire has encroached upon a large section of an isolated native cutthroat population along Clear Creek (traced with blue in the bottom left corner). You can see that most of that drainage has been hit. Clear Creek has been hit hard and currently burning more.

The middle-left creek, Big Bend, also highlighted in blue is currently an isolated population of native cutthroats that are held safe from invasives by a natural waterfall. The other blue lines at the top of the map indicated where the reintroduction program waters are. The basin continues north along with the reintroduction program, but the map cuts off about 1/4 of that. The reintroduction program and Big Bend are clear of fire right now. 

It’s mostly burning back on itself with about 100 acres of additional acreage in recent days.  There are two hot spots:  1) very near/at Clear Creek’s top end.  2)  in the interior of Hermosa burning NW towards Big Bend.  

Currently, updates are being posted on the 416 Facebook page here.