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Yampa River closure below Stagecoach Reservoir to remain

Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Due to high uncertainty and fluctuations in water releases out of Stagecoach Reservoir, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) will maintain a mandatory full-day fishing closure on a 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River between the dam at Stagecoach State Park downstream to the lowermost park boundary.

The closure, which began in late October due to low water flows, will continue until April or when persistent, favorable water releases are more certain. Water releases have been inconsistent in the past few weeks, which has led to enough uncertainty to maintain the closure. CPW staff will continue to monitor and communicate with water district staff throughout the coming weeks.

"We are asking for the public's patience and cooperation," said Stagecoach State Park Manager Craig Preston. "It is very important that we do what we can to protect this unique fishery for today and future generations."

With reduced water flows, fish can become concentrated in residual pool habitats and could become stressed due to increased competition for food resources. Concentrated fish become easier targets for anglers, an added stressor which could result in increased hooking mortality. The rate of hooking a fish other than in the mouth can also increase, which can lead to injuries that can result in secondary infections.

In the mid-2000s, whirling disease (WD) created a significant impact on the rainbow trout fishery throughout the Yampa River, between Stagecoach Reservoir and Lake Catamount. Since then, CPW aquatic biologists have worked to reestablish the rainbow trout population. CPW began stocking this reach in 2006 with a unique strain of rainbow trout that exhibits a high level of resistance to WD. The highest densities of these fish are found in this tailwater section just below Stagecoach Reservoir, which serves as a reserve brood source for this strain of rainbow trout.

Fish population declines have been evident throughout this corridor since 2020 attributed to a myriad of factors such as drought conditions (low flows), increased use, construction activities, and wildfire.

The 2021 wildfire in the headwaters of Morrison Creek left a considerable 'fire scar' on the landscape, which combined with rain events in spring / summer 2022, had negative impacts on the Yampa River system downstream of the confluence with Morrison Creek (below the tailwater section). Results of fall 2022 fishery surveys revealed population-level declines between 44% and 67% at monitoring stations below the confluence of Morrison Creek, compared to 2020 surveys, while the population remained relatively stable at the tailwater monitoring station.

Given the stronghold of these rainbow trout in the tailwater reach following a decline evident in 2020 compared to 2019, and with recent declines downstream, CPW management feels protections are necessary until more certain outflow from Stagecoach Reservoir is realized.

CPW works closely with the Upper Yampa Water Conservancy District (UYWCD), who owns and operates Stagecoach Reservoir, to stay informed on reservoir releases. Due to extremely low reservoir levels, combined with unpredictable fluctuations in reservoir inflow, releases will remain very uncertain from one week to the next.

"We had great success providing environmental and flow maintenance releases from the reservoir this past summer in collaboration with our partners," said UYWCD General Manager Andy Rossi. "We now are in the position where recovering the volume stored in the reservoir for use next season is a priority. Early winter inflows to Stagecoach Reservoir are very uncertain from one week to the next and we will be conserving every drop while keeping a close eye on how our basin-wide snowpack develops."

Like many rivers and streams in western Colorado, the Yampa River offers world-class fishing and attracts thousands of anglers each year.
For more information or current fishing conditions at Stagecoach State Park call 970-736-2436.
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