RBC | Fish struggling with high temperatures and low water flow in the White River are getting a bit of reprieve. Last Friday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife began releasing cooler water from Lake Avery in an ongoing effort to keep coldwater fish in the river alive as tough, drought conditions persist.
“It’s been drier than I have ever seen in my time up here,” said Area Wildlife Manager Bill deVergie of Meeker. “The water release will help for now, but the White River will be in serious trouble if the rains don’t come soon.”
Trout have adapted to thrive in water temperatures between 50-60 degrees. According to CPW, some sections of the White River have exceeded 70-plus degrees consistently since early June. In addition, water flow in portions of the river have been running at or below the 25th percentile of the historical median in recent weeks.
When flows are low, water is susceptible to warming quickly and dissolved oxygen levels drop, leading to significantly stressed fish. They gather in residual pools and become easier to catch. Even if returned to the water immediately, stressed fish hooked under these conditions could quickly perish.
In addition to the water release, CPW has implemented a voluntary fishing closure between 2 p.m. and midnight on both north and south forks of the White River, from the boundary of the National Forest through the main stem down to the bridge at Rio Blanco County Road 5, west of Meeker.
CPW has implemented additional voluntary fishing closures across the region, due to similar conditions.
The White River within Rio Blanco County is renowned for excellent fishing, drawing thousands of anglers from across the world to catch the large rainbow, cutthroat and brook trout that typically thrive in these waters.
“It’s a great place to fish, but the White River fishery is also a critical resource that local residents depend upon for their livelihoods,” said deVergie. “Whether you run a hotel, a restaurant or an outfitting business, everyone up here has a vested interest in conserving this important natural resource.”
Since the voluntary closure went into effect last week, deVergie says he has seen excellent cooperation from the public. He stresses it could be a while before things improve.
“Now that we have a little more flow in the river, we are asking irrigators to leave as much of it as they can in the river for the benefit of the fish,” said deVergie. “Until we get some moisture, the release is one of the last remaining options we have to help prevent extensive fish mortality in the White River.”
Through an agreement with the Colorado Water Conservation Board, CPW can release water from Lake Avery to help the Board meet their instream flow right of 200 cubic feet per second. The goal is protecting aquatic life in Big Beaver Creek downstream of Lake Avery, and the White River downstream to the confluence with Piceance Creek.
The terms of the agreement allow for releasing 20 cfs up to 120 days. CPW will monitor water-quality conditions and fish to gauge the effects of the additional water, adjusting the release from Lake Avery as conditions warrant.
Due to similar climate conditions at the time, CPW released water from Lake Avery in 2012. Per the terms of the agreement, the agency can release water from the reservoir only one more time prior to 2022.
CPW recommends honoring all voluntary closures, fishing at higher altitude or fishing early when it’s cooler. Anglers should consider using barbless hooks, land fish quickly and release them quickly. Wet your hands before handling and let them go immediately, preferably without removing them from the water.
For more information about conditions on the White River, contact CPW’s Meeker office at 970-878-6090.
For general information about fishing in Colorado, visit the CPW website.