© 2024 Aspen Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Low Water Is Trouble For Trout

This summer, the Roaring Fork, Frying Pan and Crystal Rivers have all reached near-historic lows, as low as 30 percent of average flow. This has many, from anglers to ecologists, concerned for trout. As the West becomes increasingly drought-prone and the climate continues to warm, fishermen and conservation groups are working together to protect the valley’s fish.


What is usually a consistent flow has slowed to a trickle this summer. The Roaring Fork River lays sluggish in shallow beds, like tide pools. Smooth, round river stones that were once completely submerged in water like baking in the midday sun.


This has been a problem - especially for fishermen.

“This is the worst I’ve seen it in the years I’ve lived here,” said Ashley Allen.

Allen has lived in the valley for 39 years. He’s the lead guide at Aspen Trout Guides, a fly-fishing service located in downtown Aspen.

Low water is rough on the brown and rainbow trout that live in the Roaring Fork’s usually cool and clear waters.

Liza Mitchell is an avid angler, who works for the Roaring Fork Conservancy, an organization that monitors river levels.

If the temperature starts to increase, which happens when the water levels drop, then the fish get physiologically stressed,” she said.


Warm water holds less oxygen and that makes it hard for fish to breathe. That just compounds the stress of being caught. Fishing in the valley is all catch-and-release, but the fish will put up a fight, no matter what.

“It’s kind of the equivalent of you running a marathon and then going into a sauna to catch your breath. The fish just aren’t able to recover,” said Allen.

Warm water raises the trouts’ metabolism so that they use more energy and need to rest and eat more, even when less food is available.


Low levels mean there’s just less habitat available for trout; fewer rocks and eddies where they can hide out and snack on bugs.

In an area like the Roaring Fork Valley, ecology is tightly tied to the economy.

Some guiding services have seen a slight drop in business this summer because of the drought and concerns over fish but guiding services have been leading the charge in protecting trout.


“We don’t want to kill our business partners,” said Allen.  

This summer The Roaring Fork Conservancy worked with guide companies and conservation organizations alike to implement voluntary fishing restrictions from 2 p.m. to midnight.

The Roaring Fork Conservancy is looking to anglers for help monitoring stream temperatures. They’ve launched the “Hot Spots for Trout” citizen science initiative to keep an eye on warming waters. They are arming anglers with thermometers to collect stream data.

That information will be used to identify which areas are most impacted by warming water.

Colorado Parks and Wildlife recommends anglers quit fishing when the water reaches 67 degrees.


This year’s low flows are a direct a result of low snowpack. According to Mitchell, this year is part of a larger pattern.

“What we’re hearing from climate scientists and from anecdotal experience, is that things are getting dryer,” said Mitchell.

While it is cause for concern, Zane Kessler with the Colorado River District, a public water planning and policy agency, said it’s not code red quite yet.

“Certainly we’re not in a state of panic, but certainly a concern for everyone who uses water on the western slope which is every one of us,” he said.

For now, anglers can still wade into what remains of the cool waters and cast a line, waiting for the trout to rise.


Related Content