Colorado Drought recovery Wipers Outlook for 06
Reservoirs in southeastern Colorado are in a tight spot as another spring approaches. After several years of drought, warm-water fisheries held in high esteem in wet years have become dwarf fishing holes.
In some cases, fish populations have withered from lack of habitat in which to spawn. In others - notably at John Martin Reservoir - prized sport fish simply became water over the dam.
"A lot of fish went out of the reservoir," said Jim Ramsay, Division of Wildlife biologist in Lamar. Ramsay said thousands of saugeyes and wipers escaped during water releases that reduced John Martin to 5 percent of its capacity last summer.
When Ramsay and regional fisheries supervisor Doug Krieger launched their boat for the traditional October gill-netting survey, their outboard motor hit bottom nearly everywhere they went.
Water in the formerly huge reservoir is rising again as irrigation companies shuttle storage to make room for a relatively plump snowpack amassing high in the Arkansas River drainage. But even if miraculous quantities of water were to melt from mountain snows, it would take years to rebuild several important fisheries.
The chief survivors of drought in the southeastern reservoirs are catfish, which tolerate warmer water and lower oxygen levels than other species.
Ramsay said crappies and catfish have held fast at John Martin, but the reservoir's glamour hybrids have nearly disappeared. "I'm afraid we're going to have to start over again with wipers and saugeyes," he said.
Gone also are vast numbers of jumbo crappie that once made Adobe Creek Reservoir (Blue Lake), north of Las Animas, a perennial spring angling attraction.
"That used to be the go-to place for crappie, and that's past right now," Krieger said. "We don't have spring high waters, so we don't get much reproduction. As the water goes, so goes the crappie."
A few bright spots still illuminate the otherwise down-in-the-dumps region. Nee Gronde Reservoir, the deep one south of Eads, boasts a fair amount of water and doable boat ramps. Farther upstream, Pueblo Reservoir is rising.
Tuesday, the Arkansas River drainage was sitting pretty with 126 percent of average snow-water equivalency, but a lot can happen between now and runoff.
"The April snowpack will tell the tale," Krieger said. "And we're not going to need just one year to recover. We're going to need multiple years of 120 percent."
Some observations on southeastern reservoirs:
? ADOBE CREEK RESERVOIR: While crappie and wipers have declined, catfish are hanging on. Last winter was the first in several that passed without fish dying.
? NEE NOSHE: "There are still lots of wipers and saugeye," Ramsay said. "And we have a project to extend the (county) boat ramp in April." Without that extension, don't count on launching anything but carry-on craft.
? NEE GRONDE RESERVOIR: "It's still the bright spot," Krieger said. "So we have one that does have some water in it. It's not thriving, but it's holding on to its own."
? UPPER QUEENS RESERVOIR: "It's just about gone," Krieger said. "I'm not sure if we're even going to stock it this year." Ramsay said the puddle that remains is 6 to 8 feet deep at its deepest. Without a recharge, the fishery will dry up.
? PUEBLO RESERVOIR: Walleyes and wipers have fared well, and anglers have reported seeing bigger smallmouth bass and spotted bass than ever. The level is rising, and more water is due to arrive from Twin Lakes as water providers prepare to catch what is hoped to be a respectable mountain snowmelt.
? BONNY RESERVOIR: Once a belle of the plains, Bonny, on the Republican River, started shriveling before the recent drought. "We've seen a decline in inflow over the last 20 years," Krieger said. "There's little hope that one will refill."
The culprits include evaporation, a leaking dam and a receding water table - the latter probably caused by too much water being sucked from wells to run center-pivot irrigation rigs.
Bonny's fish were getting skinny before the wildlife division backed off on the numbers of fish it stocked. Catfish, wipers, white bass and crappie likely will offer fair to good fishing this coming spring. "There will just be fewer of them," Krieger said