Cuba KS 66940
I was looking forward to the summer of 2002. The previous summer I had found a place that I had nearly to myself during July and August of 2001. After I learned to fish the tiny south fork of the Purgatoire in the Bosque del Oso State Wildlife Area, I was usually able to catch and release 20 to 30 small brown trout in a couple of hours. This fast-paced action was just what I needed to retune long unused fly fishing skills.
Fly fishing is my number one stress reducer and last summer was so much fun that I had high hopes for almost daily outings in the Bosque del Oso. I had even taught a newly found friend to wield a fly rod and was looking forward to helping him perfect the art. Disaster was what I found instead.
The long drought in Colorado has run for almost two years. By March 2002 the peaks looked like they do in August! Fires were raging all over Colorado with the Tercio-Cyn fire just 15 miles south. Although I knew a fire was being fought in the Bosque I was eager to try the fly rod. The school yard at Primero was packed with tents of firefighters giving me an idea of how big the fire really was. The smoke was irritating but not overpowering as firefighters drove by and looked at me as if I was crazy. As I fished a bulldozer clanked down the road and began cutting a new fire break over the ridge behind me.
I managed to catch and release six fish in a half hour or so before deciding the smoke was causing vision and breathing problems. As I drove out of the area I noticed a bright yellow sign that I had not seen before stating that the area was closed due to the fires. OOPS! I had at least satisfied my curiosity about the stream and found that it still held fish although it carried less than half the volume of water it had the previous year.
I was unable to reenter the area until July 14th. The stream was even lower in volume as I drove alongside, and ash was heavy along the banks. I was surprised to see that the fire had burned clear down to where I had been fishing that day in June. In two subsequent trips I have not caught a fish nor seen any sign of any fish in the stream. Beaver dams have washed out and filled with silt, and ash floats constantly on the current. Last year rocks and twigs bristled with caddis cases. Stone fly and mayfly nymphs were also numerous. Now a turned rock yields maybe one or two struggling caddis larvae.
My disappointment and fear for the future of fishing in that stream are echoed all over Colorado. The superb fishing habitat of Cheesman Canyon, although not completely burned, has so many burned snags and dangerous trees on the north side that the canyon has remained closed all summer. Of great concern for the future of the fishery is the threat of smothering floods if vegetation does not regrow prior to heavy rains and snows.
The huge Missionary Ridge fire has affected fishing in the Animas, Florida, and Los Pinos rivers along with Vallecito Reservoir and creek. The Miracle Complex fires affected the Flat Tops Wilderness and the many lakes on Grand Mesa. The Coal Seam fire near Glenwood Springs burned very near the disastrous Storm King Mountain fire of a few years ago, jumped the Colorado River and disrupted the fisheries all around the town of Glenwood Springs.
Fires are not the only threat to fishing. Antero reservoir has now been completely drained to slake the thirst of Denver residents, thereby eliminating one of the best trophy trout fisheries in the state.
I grew up in Colorado and spent many happy hours fishing all the areas just mentioned. I attempted a return to my youth about seven years ago by trying to fish the streams where I had such fond memories. My disappointment started then with all the “No Trespassing” signs and the crowds of anglers where thirty years previously there were just a few. But now I fear that trout fishing in Colorado may take ten years or more to recover from this season of drought and fire.