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Old 02-10-2005, 12:15 AM
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Default Colorado Drought recovery Wipers Outlook for 06

Drought recovery
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
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Old 02-02-2006, 12:31 PM
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Although a drought's aftermath continues to nag the network of fertile jewels that warm-water anglers covet along the lower Arkansas River Valley, some fairly good fishing could be in the offing for 2006.
The trick will be figuring out how to launch boats into water that, in nearly every case, has been shrinking away again from historic shorelines. For example, take a look at popular Nee Noshe Reservoir, if you can spot what's left of it a mile out there.
"Nee Noshe and Nee Gronde didn't receive any fresh flows through the canal system last year, so they've lost ground," said Jim Ramsay, the division biologist whose onerous job entails maintaining fisheries prone to drying up or pouring through irrigation dams.
"We're probably about the same as last year on fish numbers. But as far as water levels go, we're in worse shape than last year."
Capable of spreading across 3,500 surface acres when full, Nee Noshe shriveled to 635 acres last summer. When the north boat ramp went belly up, Kiowa County built a mile-long road out into the lake bed so the Division of Wildlife could keep extending a new gravel and grid boat ramp on the south side.
Nee Gronde, the deepest of the Great Plains Lakes, doesn't lose water to evaporation as fast as Nee Noshe. So Nee Gronde is in better shape, at 1,900 surface acres.
When fishing reopens April 1, a public, gravel ramp on its south bank should be serviceable to shallow draft boats.
Fishing could have remained closed through the spring snow-goose hunt, which federal waterfowl officials extended to April 30 this year. But Colorado wildlife managers decided to retain the April 1 opener.
It's anybody's guess how the water might flow in the next two months, but things don't look quite as good as last year. The latest Snotel snowpack readings, for early January, measured 110 percent of average, or 19 percent lower than in January 2005.
The huge John Martin Reservoir filled with last year's ample runoff, swelling to 80,000 acre-feet volume. But irrigation calls drove it down to a mere 8,200 acre-feet by the end of summer.
"That's hard on our stocking efforts," Ramsay said. "It's like pulling the drain on a bathtub."

? John Martin Reservoir: The division doesn't stock white bass, but they've been reproducing like mad. Half of all fish in Ramsay's nets were white bass, averaging 8 inches and stretching to 16 1/2 inches. Saugeye and wiper numbers are up some, and crappies are in evidence. Gizzard shad numbers have fallen, which should make for hungrier sport fish.

? Nee Noshe Reservoir: "It's fish soup out there," Ramsay said. Despite the low water, Nee Noshe still holds plenty of big wipers, saugeyes and crappie. The new south ramp should be serviceable April 1, but anglers are cautioned to keep vehicles off the slick sand if rain is expected.
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Old 03-04-2006, 11:57 AM
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Ed Dentry Rocky Mountain News
Ben Swigle must be living a charmed life. Going into his first full year managing Colorado's star northeastern fisheries, the Division of Wildlife biologist based in Brush finds assembled before him all the elements to build great fishing.
Including water, of all things.
After seven years of below-average runoff crowned with drought of biblical proportions, the four major reservoirs along the lower South Platte River Basin are standing pat with a full house, brimming with potential.
In contrast with southeastern Colorado reservoirs, which remain thirsty, Jackson, Prewitt, North Sterling and Jumbo reservoirs are poised to produce good to excellent fishing for just about everything from walleyes and wipers to trout.
"Three of four reservoirs are nearly 100 percent full," said Swigle, who is in the catbird seat but careful not to get cocky. "I'm cautiously optimistic."
With the reservoirs certain to fill and a higher-than-average South Platte snowpack poised to recharge them, it would seem chances are good water levels might stay relatively hearty, even after farmers start pulling off irrigation flows.
Swigle and crew also were pleasantly surprised by gill-net samples during the fall. There even is good news to report from Prewitt Reservoir, which shriveled into a puddle within a sandy desert in 2002.
All four reservoirs will be stocked with catchable trout in the next few weeks. Jackson is home to hordes of wipers larger than the 15-inch minimum size limit. North Sterling offers the fruits of three exceptional year-classes of wipers. Jumbo will continue its adventure into jumbo rainbow trout, with abundant walleyes on the way.
Anglers should note some new regulations, including a trophy limit for walleyes/saugeyes at all four reservoirs and a trophy limit for wiper at North Sterling.
At Jackson, Prewitt, North Sterling and Jumbo, the minimum size limit for walleye and saugeye is 15 inches, but only one longer than 21 inches can be taken per day. At North Sterling, the minimum size limit for wipers is 15 inches, but only one wiper longer than 25 inches can be kept per day.
Here is some of what's happening, fishwise, on the northeastern plains:

? Jackson Reservoir. "There must have been a heck of year-class of wipers in 2001, so there's a potential for an excellent keeper wiper fishery," Swigle said.
He was amazed, in net surveys late last summer, to find 103 wipers, 97 of which were longer than 15 inches.
Jackson also received 18,000 catchable rainbow trout during autumn, and more will be on the way.
"Expect a flurry of fish," Swigle said. "People routinely catch 20-inch trout."
The biggest thing Jackson has going for it is a "phenomenal forage base of gizzard shad," he said.
Those prolific, silvery baitfish will feed everything from wipers and walleyes to trout.

? Prewitt Reservoir. A nearly empty bowl with loads of gizzard shad surviving and no sport fish stocked since 2002, now-full Prewitt is ripe for massive infusions of wipers, catfish, saugeyes and catchable rainbows.
"We need some teeth out there to take care of the shad," Swigle said.
Fair numbers of wipers and catfish stocked in 2001 also survived; those larger wipers have grown to 17 to 22 inches.
In June, Swigle stocked 52,000 saugeye fingerlings in Prewitt, fish that will be 6 to 8 inches this year but will need a couple of years to grow to legal size. The schedule this year includes 75,000 wiper fingerlings, 72,000 catfish, some bluegills and crappie and 6,000 catchable trout in April.
"We're putting catchable rainbows in Prewitt for the first time in 10 or 12 years," Swigle said.

? North Sterling Reservoir. The wildlife division hopes to get gizzard shad from Nebraska to boost a slumping shad population, but "North Sterling is coming back," Swigle said.
His stocking plans include huge helpings of walleyes/saugeyes - 1 million fry and 150,000 fingerlings this year, followed by 5 million fry and 150,000 fingerlings in 2007.
"We're going to try to get people to quit going across the (Nebraska) border to Lake McConaughy," he said.
North Sterling anglers might catch some northern pike this year, also. Swigle plans to follow up modest stockings of pike that started in 2001, to control carp and suckers.
The largest pike he bagged in his nets last fall weighed 14 pounds.
He said he wants to keep stirring some pike in the mix, at one pike per 75 walleyes, because they seem to be munching effectively into the rough fish population. There is no chance the pike will reproduce, he said, because North Sterling's irrigation drawdowns will dry out the shallows where they deposit their eggs.

? Jumbo Reservoir. The big one near Julesburg has proved something of a phenomenon lately - whenever it wasn't empty or nearly so.
Thanks to phenomenal production of the important zooplankton critter named Daphnia, Jumbo has been growing trout fat and sassy. It also has a huge population of crayfish, which has inspired Swigle to introduce smallmouth bass, the crustacean's greatest fan.
Jumbo also has been busy growing plenty of 8- to 10-inch walleyes, not keepers, but well on their way.
"If we can keep water on their backs, Jumbo is going to be an incredible walleye fishery this fall or in spring 2007," Swigle said. "So I'm starting with all I need - water and a forage base."
And, we might add, with lots of help from hatcheries.
With some luck, snow in the high country and maybe rain on the plains, this could be the start of something big.
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