Public input meeting on catch-and-release proposal

Staff Writer

A proposal to designate the San Juan River as a catch-and-release fishery for the section that flows through downtown Pagosa Springs will be the topic of a public meeting on Wednesday, June 25, at 6 p.m. in the Ross Aragon Community Center South Conference Room.

All interested citizens are encouraged to attend as representatives from Colorado Parks and Wildlife will discuss the merits of the proposal, which gained preliminary approval from the Pagosa Springs Town Council last year.

Currently, this part of the river has a two-fish bag limit and anglers are allowed to use both artificial lures and bait; catch-and-release practices are voluntary.

However, the CPW and a private group called the Pagosa Quality Fishing Project stock the river, and if proponents of the proposal are successful, catch and release will become mandatory on at least a portion of the downtown fishery.

Town Tourism Committee Director Jenny Green reported at the TTC mid-May meeting that Jim White, the chief aquatic biologist for CPW, would bring a team to Pagosa on May 30 to meet with local businessman Larry Fisher as well as Tom Carosello and Jim Miller from the town’s parks and recreation department.

While Green clarified that the meeting on May 30 was not open to the public, it was meant to review the concerns that CPW had with the proposal before opening the idea up to the public.

The TTC has $15,000 in its budget to help fund fish stocking efforts, and Fisher explained that his group (PQFP) is trying to get the designation enacted for the section starting behind the east side Conoco and ending just beyond the Apache Street Bridge near Town Hall.

When TTC chairman Bob Kudelski asked if there would be any public opposition to the idea, Fisher admitted, “In the past, maybe fifteen years ago, there was a huge opposition. There’s not so much anymore. There probably will be a few locals, and I can count their names on one hand, who feel it is their right to catch all those fish and take them home every single day.

“There’s a possibility some of them go out and catch their two fish, take them home, and then come back and catch two more, and so on. There might be some opposition from a few of those people, but in general, the mindset has changed significantly over the last fifteen years.”

Fisher explained that the goal of his group is to have the new designation for the river in place by the summer of 2015.

Almost a year ago, the town sent a letter to CPW that stated, “we would like to request that the Colorado Parks & Wildlife consider designating a 2-mile stretch of the San Juan River through downtown Pagosa Springs as Artificial Lures & Flies Only, Catch & Release. The Town of Pagosa has invested significant money and resources in the river, through recreational and habitat improvements, as well as continued stocking through the Pagosa Quality Fishing Project.

“If the proposed designation is approved, the Town will continue its commitment to funding and supporting fish stocking efforts in downtown Pagosa Springs. Additionally, the Town will increase stocking of the ponds behind the River Center Complex. In the winter of 2012, the town completed dredging all the sediment from the ponds and restocked them with trout. The PQFP will keep the ponds as catch and keep with a two fish limit. Therefore, those wanting to keep fish will be able to do so in downtown Pagosa.”

At that time, Fisher explained to town council that he has been considering this issue for over 20 years, and, based on the interactions he has had with the customers in his store, as well as with numerous local fishing guides, the idea of designating the river through town as catch and release will greatly increase the angling experience for everyone. Fisher claimed that leaving the fish in the river will allow them to grow much bigger year after year and will make catching them even more exciting.

Shortly before he received the town’s letter, while conducting last summer’s periodic assessments of the trout fishery, White explained to SUN staff, “One reason to do catch and release is if you have a lot of natural reproduction. It means that the fish out there are doing a lot of spawning and having babies, and you don’t have to do a lot of stocking.

“However, the San Juan does not have very good reproductive habitat. Most of this section that we are getting ready to go through has a lot of bedrock, which is very slippery. Trout need really clean, small cobblestones or gravel. It’s pretty common that we stock catchable trout in areas like this. I don’t know how well a catch-and -release regulation would work for this area, because it would mean that we would stop stocking.

“Maybe we would stock fingerlings, because the whole idea with catch and release is that you have reproducing fish. Plus, we would definitely want to get the public’s input as well. I know there are a number of people in town who have pushed for it over the years. Stocked fish typically don’t survive well over the winter, so they are kind of perishable.”

It remains to be seen if White has changed his opinion about the catch-and-release proposal, and the public is encouraged to come find out, or to ask questions of their own, at the meeting next Wednesday.

This story was posted on June 19, 2014.