GYPSUM, Colo. (KDVR) — On a sunny cloudless morning in June, the Eagle River flowed swiftly as a family visiting from Florida learned the basics of fly fishing.

“Have either of you cast a fly rod? No? I love the challenge,” Pete Mott, who is passing on a lifetime of fishing knowledge, said.

Commercial Fishing adds over $1 billion to Colorado’s economy

An always-changing river makes planning fishing trips more of a challenge for commercial fishing outfitters like Mott with Trout Trickers.

In June, crews were on the river before 9 a.m. doing what they do best, teaching people how to fish. But that changed in July when Colorado Parks and Wildlife issued several voluntary fishing closures after noon on rivers across the state.

“It means I lost a lot of full days because we had to quit at noon. I lost all of my afternoon business,” Mott said.

In recent summers, CPW has discouraged or prohibited fishing on stretches of the Colorado River and its tributaries due to the ongoing drought. The fly fishing tours, which lasted a full day in June, are mostly over by noon because when water temperatures reach around 68 degrees the fish stop biting.

Angler fly fishing for trout on the Eagle River

CPW said stream flows below 50% combined with high temperatures put extra stress on fish.

“It’s direct. It’s directly related. As the water comes down, it heats up quicker,” Mott said. “I actually carry a thermometer and we will be measuring temperatures and making a decision that favors the fish and stopping our angling to not catch them when they are already experiencing tough conditions.”

Shorter days mean fewer tour opportunities for first-time Vail Valley tourists who traveled from Miami to experience fishing in the mountains.

Matt Miller, a tourist from Texas, enjoys catching trout on the Eagle River

“We are so excited to be able to experience this beautiful nature,” a mom of two whose family caught and released several fish while floating the Eagle said.

“We caught a brown trout, a couple of rainbows,” Matt Miller said. “It was a blast. I recommend it to anybody.”   

The Miller family makes an annual trek to Colorado’s mountains to escape San Antonio’s summer heat and recreate on the river.

Colorado’s fishing industry adds over $1 billion to the state’s economy, according to the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Eagle River is a tributary of the Colorado River in the west-central part of the state.

CPW said the water conditions not only threaten the fish, but stressed fish may not be able to spawn in the fall. Mott maintains that the health of the fish and river is more important than his business’ bottom line.

“No matter what, we will prioritize the fish and respect the resource,” Mott said. “We embrace it. We protect it. We support it and we live in it. It’s everything.”

Here are the current closures. Some are mandatory, some are voluntary, some are only in the afternoons and the closures can be lifted or reinstated depending on the constant changing conditions. 

CPW considers the following before calling for a fishing closure:

  • Daily maximum water temperatures at 71 degrees
  • Stream flows less than 50% of the daily average flow
  • Fish conditions visibly deteriorating
  • Daily dissolved oxygen is less than 6 parts per million
  • Environmental event

For more coverage of this story, visit our Colorado River Crisis coverage page.