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The Arkansas River: Gold Medal Water

01/10/14 at 02:38 PM by Vince Puzick

One of Colorado’s most renown fisheries just received a great distinction.  The upper Arkansas River was added to the list of Gold Medal Trout Waters in Colorado.  The 102 miles from the Lake Fork near Leadville to Parkdale at the Highway 50 bridge crossing is the longest stretch of Gold Medal Water in the state.


“The upper Arkansas River fishery is the best it has been in over a century thanks to the efforts and hard work of many agencies and individuals that have recognized its great potential,” said Greg Policky, CPW Aquatic Biologist. “I am very pleased that this outstanding river has received the Gold Medal designation and is now ranked among the elite trout fisheries in Colorado.”


Of course, these 102 miles of river run through terrain that is very familiar to many of us.  The stretch through Bighorn Sheep Canyon along Highway 50 is one of the most beautiful stretches of river in the state.  Of course, the Arkansas River runs through Browns Canyon which is being considered for national monument status through a proposal from Senator Mark Udall.  Perhaps this designation as Gold Medal Water can provide the final argument to have that status granted.


The Colorado Parks and Wildlife Commission, in its press release, reported that “to receive a Gold Medal listing, a body of water must consistently support a minimum trout standing stock of 60 pounds per acre, as well as consistently support a minimum average of 12 quality trout – trout larger than 14 inches – per acre.”

In the last 20 years, the upper Arkansas River has undergone a habitat transformation. Fish populations in the area were impacted by heavy metal pollution from mining in the Leadville area. Because of the pollution, trout could not live in the area, and they did not live beyond three years old further downstream.  Although anglers have enjoyed the improved conditions for years, it is an official acknowledgement of the myriad efforts undertaken by state and federal agencies to turn an impaired river into one of the most popular fishing destinations in Colorado.

Today, trout are living up to ten years old due to habitat restoration, improved water quality and creative fishery management. The present-day fish population has benefited from these habitat efforts and has met the Gold Medal designation since 1999 for both the quality of trout per acre and the standing crop.


With the addition of the Arkansas River, total Gold Medal stream miles in Colorado increases by 50% to 322 total miles.


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