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Protect the Spawn

10/18/20 at 06:37 AM by Vince Puzick

 

I had the chance to talk with Landon Mayer -- Colorado Springs' native, friend of the Shop, fly fishing guide, writer, and ambassador of the sport -- about one of his biggest passions:  stewardship of the Dream Stream and the South Platte fishery.

 

Question:  What is the biggest need that has to be addressed at The Dream Stream?

 

Landon Mayer: The last year I witnessed an incredibly strong run was 2010.  During the fall, the flows had reached even as high as 200 cfs.  You would have the chance for quality fish – 20” in all species: kokanee, rainbow, cutthroat, cutbows, rainbows, brown trout. As a guide, it meant 10-15 hook-ups per angler per day.  The numbers were staggering. 

 

If you take a trip up there now, in the state that the fishery is in, full day trips with one angler and if you land  3 or 4 adult feeding fish, legit land, it’s a banner day. That’s how much it has changed due to flows, pressure, and the migratory patterns of the trout.  I watched fish on a recent trip that when they moved through the shallow water, literally, their dorsal fin was sticking out of the water.

 

The biggest need in my opinion is protecting spawning trout.

 

This is a huge ongoing issue. The way conditions have changed over the last 23 years, with the changes to flows and pressure, to see people snagging fish and the abuse that can take place … It’s now or never.

 

photo credit: Landon Mayer

 

Question: How do we protect the resource?

 

LM: I had an idea years ago from seeing them do this on the Yampa River. Protection on certain areas where fish spawn was a really big eye-opener.  I thought it would be great for the Dream Stream. The Dream has one of the strongest genetic strains of wild Brown trout in North America.  The fish are huge and beautiful.

 

So I wanted to put up signs to say you can’t legally fish here during the spawn. But changing the law would be a huge undertaking. The idea didn’t seem like it was really going anywhere. 

 

Then the idea for educational signs popped up for me.  Two of my friends and long-time clients,  Charlie and Eddy Dibner, know my passion for the Dream Stream and this goal to protect spawning fish. Charlie designed the signs, and they were kind enough to purchase and donate them.

 

The important factor is, and something I have been doing over the years, is educating new anglers.  This is spawning ground and anglers need to understand the spawning ritual: spawn, fry, parr and the different phases of the trout’s life. They need to know why wild fish are important. When anglers see the sign, they know that it is not a good idea to fish behind it. When they go home, they can further educate themselves about spawning fish. 

 

photo credit: Landon Mayer  

 

Question:  So it seems as if there are two aspects of this issue. One side is purely educational. The other side, it seems to me, are anglers who intentionally target spawning fish.  What about the side of the issue where anglers know but simply choose to target spawning fish?

 

People see these fish exposed in shallow water and try to snag them.  Or they try to make some ease of their day fishing on the fly and they floss them.

 

The message we are sending is “Don’t step behind the sign because if you do, you’re going to be witnessed by everybody else that you are fishing an area that should be protected.” 

 

If somebody is targeting spawning fish behind the sign, we’ll take the picture, post it to social media, send it to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Hopefully that’s enough influence to keep them away and stop the behavior. 

 

Jon Easdon (Director of Services at Angler’s Covey) and I are on the same page. There is a place for being nicer and kinder, but you also reach a point where you need to be more active. If you can’t change the law, then you can at least put the fear of shaming an angler who is targeting spawning fish so that it keeps them away. We need to change behavior.

 

Question:  What are the greatest dangers when anglers target spawning fish?

 

LM: Spawning trout are not feeding trout. Their ritual of spawning is taking place:  dropping eggs, shooting milt, protecting the redds, competing against other fish.  This is what the fish are doing. Even if you throw a big streamer out, they won’t attack the streamer, because they are expending energy in this ritual.

 

On average, the female -- a giant brown, say a 30” female --  will lose, in addition to the weight of the eggs, 7 pounds in body mass in two months from spawning.  That’s how much energy is expended. 

 

Males will lose 4 to 5 pounds because they are expending so much energy chasing the redds, chasing other fish, shooting their milt.  

 

Two trout in the spawning ritual.

 

Let’s say you pull the male off of the spawning bed. The female drops her eggs and, usually, the male shoots his milt on the eggs. If you interrupt the ritual, you run the risk of not only damaging the spawning fish but ruining the eggs and future generations of wild trout.

 

The other big issue is people walking on the beds, whether they catch a fish or not.  They are crushing eggs.  Because redds are the spawning beds where the fertilized eggs incubate, then, when they hatch, turn into fry. The immature trout, called parr, return to their ground.  All of this plays a big part into the cycle.

 

 

Question:  What are the specifics for the placement of the signs? 

 

The educational signs need the CPW logo placed on them.  We’ll have those next spring and put into place.  The signs will be put up for 30 days, basically the month of April, in locations determined by the biologists and guides/outfitters.  Then they will be put into place in October for the fall season. The whole focus of the signs is to identify that these are known spawning grounds and the fish and fishery behind the signs should be left alone.

 

On the Dream Stream, fish return to the same 2-3” cobblestone stretches, three choice spawning grounds, every year. If those three areas alone are protected, it will help increase the protection for spawning trout and wild trout for future generations.

 

The light gravel is a trout's spawning bed.

 

This action will also help angling activity for everybody: more trout can migrate through, more fish can be influenced by migratory trout, and the resident fish can enjoy the food – like eggs, food and vegetation kicked up from the bottom.

 

Those genetically strong fish can move through the system and we can be even more proud of this fishery. We can all be proud that we are being proactive to protect these fish.

 

Question:  Are there steps beyond the educational signs that you would like to see taken over the next couple of years?

 

LM: Our hope is they shut down the whole middle stretch of the river where you cannot night fish.

 

Elevenmile Reservoir is open for night fishing.  If night fishing is something you would like to do, you are not losing out. But it makes no sense for Spinney Reservoir and the top mile of winding river to be closed at night, the lower ¾ mile to be closed at night, and the middle section is open.

 

I participated in a fish count a few years ago.  The DOW shocked the stream, and for every 100 yards, we counted something like 1500-2000 fingerling wild browns.  Most of these brown trout are spawned just below the dam (from the fence up to the dam).  Imagine if we protect three other zones in addition to the zone below the dam. 

 

Because Colorado Parks merged with the Division of Wildlife, the law against night fishing is already in place. They should just apply it to the whole river.

 

80% of brown trout spawn during the evening.  They have complete cover.  The temperatures are great. It’s cooler with more oxygen in the water. It’s healthier for them.

 

If we know that the majority of trout spawn at night, why don’t we just leave them alone and allow them to be more protected?

 

Question:  This seems like a huge collaborative effort between shops, guides, and the state of Colorado.  And it also seems like a huge part of the collaboration has to be the angler who has the rod in their hands. 

 

LM: Absolutely. This is all happening with people working together.

 

This is a huge collaborative effort between the Colorado Parks and Wildlife:

  • Mark Lamb (Colorado Parks and Wildlife),
  • Darcy Mount (head ranger at Elevenmile State Park),
  • Jeff Spohn (Biologist),
  • Tyler Swarr (Biologist),

and individual guides and shops in the area:

  • myself,
  • Jon Easdon (Director of Services at Angler's Covey),
  • David and Becky Leinweber (co-owners of Angler’s Covey),
  • Phil Tereyla (who made an online petition five years ago to section off spawning zones),
  • Pat Dorsey (head guide and co-owner at Blue Quill Anglers),
  • Taylor Edrington (Owner of Royal Gorge Anglers),
  • The South Platte Fly Shop, and
  • Brad and Sherri Tomlinson (The Peak Fly Shop).

 Landon and David Chorpenning enjoy a day on The Dream Stream.

 

David Chorpenning (founder of the Center for Visionary Leadership) connected with Pete Lee (Colorado Senator), and they were able to argue our case stronger in Denver. They played a big part in connecting with others to make this happen. You’re seeing people, leisure anglers, take their personal time to make these efforts.

 

This is not just about people "in the shops" and "people outside of the shops." We all work together. It’s not a competition against…it’s a competition for. This work is going to increase the number of fish for all. This will play a huge part in knowing that the resource is protected.

 

I can’t think of a better community than what the South Platte has really become. The efforts on the Dream with the signs and the "Clean the Dream" initiative every fall.  Pat Dorsey, who has been a huge influence on my life as well as others, has lead great work in Cheesman Canyon to improve the Gill Trail.

 

This collaboration is a win for everybody in the system.

 

 
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