From The Denver Post (Scott Willoughby):
From above and below, it’s easy to imagine how the rapids known as “Fisherman’s Nightmare” got their nickname. The chaotic jumble of rocks and water (also known as “Applesauce”) that serves as sentinel to the Colorado River’s Gore Canyon drops precipitously from the placid, pastoral flats surrounding the Blue River confluence at Kremmling and marks the start of the steepest and most technically challenging whitewater of the entire Colorado River. An unwary angler drifting into the Class V canyon can expect a frightening wake-up call.
Beneath soaring cliffs up to 1,000 feet tall, the river’s gradient shifts radically from a flatwater nature float to an adrenaline-soaked plummet of some 115 feet per mile over the next 4 miles.
It’s a little-known secret that the remote ravine shrouds some of finest fishing along the Upper Colorado, since access is largely limited to the region’s most skilled whitewater boaters. But those in the know will occasionally make their way upstream along a rugged foot path that begins at the Bureau of Land Management’s Pumphouse Recreation Site at the southern edge of Gore Canyon and eventually fades away entirely.
The popular fishing and floating stretch downstream from the Pumphouse boat ramp is known to boast some of the highest fish statistics throughout the river originating in Rocky Mountain National Park, measuring more than 3,500 trout per mile between Pumphouse and the Radium boat ramp 4 miles downstream. While the wild character of the upstream canyon doesn’t lend itself to scientific fish counts, anecdotal evidence suggests that the fish lurking in deep pools below Gore’s steep drops have grown larger and face far less angling pressure than their downstream counterparts.
“I’ve got a photo of the mythological beast that lives below Tunnel Falls (the biggest drop in the canyon) we named ‘General Sherman’ hanging in my garage. He’s just a big, thick, brown trout,” said Ken Hoeve, a Reddington team angler and former pro kayaker who fishes Gore Canyon regularly. “There really are some brutes that live in there, and they’re not very smart because nobody ever fishes for them.”
That’s not to say the fish are entirely devoid of pressures, however.
For two years running now, the Upper Colorado River Basin has earned prominent rankings among the annual ” America’s Most Endangered Rivers” report published by the conservation organization American Rivers. Due to the combined effects of drought, overallocation and transmountain water diversions to meet growing Front Range demand, the Upper Colorado was named the nation’s most endangered river in 2013 and was second only to California’s San Joaquin River this year.
“The America’s Most Endangered Rivers report is a call to action to save rivers that are at a critical tipping point,” said Carbondale resident Ken Neubecker of American Rivers. “We cannot afford more outdated, expensive and harmful water development schemes that drain and divert rivers and streams across the Upper Colorado Basin. If we want these rivers to continue to support fish, wildlife, agriculture and a multibillion-dollar tourism industry, we must ensure the rivers have enough water.”
A basin-wide drought now measuring 14 years has been exacerbated by increasing municipal, agricultural and industrial demands, all of which has led to the lowest 14-year inflow to Lake Powell since the downstream reservoir began filling in 1963.
American Rivers has seen support from conservation groups including Trout Unlimited, Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club and Conservation Colorado, among others, attempting to implement measures to maintain critical river flows for fish, wildlife and recreation in the upper basin. Denver Water and Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District are proposing significant increases in the amount of water pumped from Colorado River headwaters across the Continental Divide through Moffat Tunnel and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project at Windy Gap.
Denver Water’s Moffat collection system expansion ultimately spawned the 2012 Colorado River Cooperative Agreement, heralded as a new vision for cooperative water management between stakeholders on both sides of the Divide. Denver Water also entered into an agreement last spring with Trout Unlimited and Grand County known as the Mitigation and Enhancement Coordination Plan (MECP) for the proposed Moffat expansion that stakeholders believe can balance municipal needs and environmental health of Colorado River headwaters should it be included in the final federal permit issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
More recently, the Upper Colorado benefited from another layer of protection when the BLM signed a Decision Record on Aug. 15 authorizing the proposed Gore Canyon Whitewater Park at Pumphouse Recreation Site. Grand County applied to build a riverwide wave feature for recreational use near the boat launch area and was awarded historic water rights for constructing the water park. Construction is scheduled to begin in November.
“The project will provide a unique recreational experience for the 60,000 to 70,000 people that visit the area each year,” said BLM Kremmling field manager Stephanie Odell. “It will also provide permanent protection for water flows supporting fishing and recreational float-boating.”
“This area has the potential to be ‘loved to death.’ We are close,” said Thomas Schneider, the owner of Sunrise Anglers fishing guide service in Littleton. “My clients love the remoteness at Pumphouse. It’s such a unique place. Will the added pressure from folks be a detriment to the environs?”
Others see it as a dream come true.
“These whitewater parks work. Not only do they create the best habitat for kayakers and paddlers, but also for the fish that benefit from aerated water and big pools,” Hoeve said. “It’s not like we’re diverting the water. It’s like, ‘Hey, while it runs through here, we’re going to do something good with it that encourages people to come here and fish and paddle.’ It’s another reason to keep water in the river.”
More whitewater coverage here.