In hot water

If you think you’re hot, try living in a fish’s shoe – or gill? or fin? whatever – for a day.

Starting Wednesday, Colorado Parks and Wildlife instituted a voluntary closure for fishing the Animas and San Juan rivers as they pass through Durango and Pagosa Springs, respectively, from 12 noon - 12 midnight as water temperatures climb dangerously high for trout survival. The closure also applies to the Dolores River below McPhee Dam.

CPW’s threshold for setting off voluntary fishing closures is 71 degrees. All this week, water temperatures have peaked over that limit, with temps on the Animas hitting just over 72 degrees Monday.

Fueled by high air temperatures, no rain and low river levels, CPW is now asking anglers to give fish a break until the weather cools off and moisture returns.

“I think our angling community and the people who care about our fish understand this measure pretty well,” John Livingston, a spokesman for CPW, said. “I hate to say, they’re getting used to it.”

Trout love cold water, with ideal water temperatures below 65 degrees. But even overnight and early morning water temperatures, when the river should be at its coldest, are registering above that threshold.

When water temperatures are that high, trout become incredibly stressed. Add on being caught by a hook and the ensuing struggle, the chances of that fish surviving after it’s released back into the water is extremely low.

“It’s difficult to safely catch and release fish because they’re worn out to a point where they can die,” Livingston said.

And, it should be noted, all forms of river recreation cause added stress on fish (looking at you, tubers and boaters).

Cole Glenn, a shop manager at San Juan Anglers, said guides are actively recommending people fish elsewhere – in reservoirs, at tailwaters and in the high country – instead of in town. And, he said most customers are understanding.

“It’s voluntary, and you can’t stop them, but we strongly suggest they fish somewhere else,” Glenn said. “It’s frightfully warm for trout; no one should be fishing.”

Whereas other rivers, such as the Yampa (which has extreme fishing pressure), have mandatory closures, CPW’s order on the Southwest Colorado rivers is voluntary. CPW will constantly monitor the situation, and lift the voluntary closure if conditions change, which might happen with the forecast calling for rain and cooler temps next week.

“We need air temperatures to get a little bit lower and more monsoon rain,” Livingston said. “Then hopefully that will improve conditions in the river.”

It’s always recommended that anglers buy a thermometer and bring it along to test water temperatures if there’s any question the level may be too high. And until then, we wait for rain.

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Colorado Parks and Wildlife instituted a voluntary closure for fishing the Animas and San Juan rivers as they pass through Durango and Pagosa Springs, respectively, from 12 noon - 12 midnight as water temperatures climb dangerously high for trout survival.

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