Upper Arkansas gets gold medal fishery status

Fishing for brookies at Officers Gulch Pond, in Summit County, Colorado.

Colorado gets new Gold Medal trout fishery.

Restoration efforts yield big gains in Colorado

By Summit Voice

FRISCO — Restoration efforts along the Arkansas River have paid sweet dividends for trouts and anglers, as state officials last week designated a 102-mile stretch of the river as a Gold Medal fishery.

The designation has been 20 years in the making, and 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.

With the addition of the Arkansas River, total Gold Medal stream miles in Colorado increases by 50 percent to 322 total miles. It will also be the longest reach 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 Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologist Greg Policky. “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.”

The Gold Medal reach is 102 miles long from the confluence with the Lake Fork of the Arkansas River, near Leadville, downstream to Parkdale at the Highway 50 bridge crossing above the Royal Gorge.

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.

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.

The Arkansas River ranked as the favorite fishing destination for residents of Colorado, according to a 2012 angler survey. Angler use reached a significant milestone in 2012 when an estimated 100,000 anglers fished the river throughout the year between Leadville and Parkdale. More than 65 percent of the river stretch is open to the angling public via federal and state-owned land and numerous state-controlled fishing leases and easements.

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