By Chris Spears

DENVER (CBS4) – A critically low water level has prompted Colorado Parks and Wildlife to close a 0.6 mile stretch of the Yampa River in northwest Colorado. The closure is for a popular stretch of the waterway between the dam at Stagecoach State Park and the lowermost park boundary. The closure is in effect until further notice.

“Should the flow rate increase substantially for a continuous period of time, CPW will re-evaluate the emergency fishing closure,” said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. “But because of the current conditions, we need to take this course of action now.”

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CPW says water releases are only 20% of average and that number will drop to less than 15% of average soon. When the water is this low the fish become concentrated in residual pool habitat and become stressed due to the increased competition for food resources. The fish also become much easier targets for anglers which is an added stressor that can result in increased hooking mortality.

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“Timing (environmental releases) is critical to the health of the river system,” said UYWCD General Manager Andy Rossi. “We manage the reservoir and collaborate with our partners to ensure that water is available and legal mechanisms are in place to release water when the river needs it most. Unfortunately, flows are already low, but hot and dry summer months are still to come,” said Rossi.

“We are trying to be as proactive as possible to protect the outstanding catch-and-release fishery we have downstream of Stagecoach Reservoir,” said CPW Area Aquatic Biologist Bill Atkinson. “This stretch of the river receives a tremendous amount of fishing pressure, especially in the spring when other resources might not be as accessible. This emergency closure is an effort to protect the resource by giving the fish a bit of a reprieve as they can become quite stressed during these extreme low-flow conditions. This spring we have not witnessed a spike in flows, which can offer fish protection and allow them to recoup energy following the spring spawn season.”

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CPW suggests that anglers find alternate areas to fish until conditions improve along this stretch of the Yampa. Citations will be issued to anyone caught violating the fishing ban.

Chris Spears