Interview with Guides: Past Colorado 2020 Fires

After a record summer of 2020 with a new pilot, Covid-19 discontinued the launch of many flight shops and guidance services worldwide. However, since fly fishing is an outdoor recreational sport, many people took this opportunity to go out and learn the beauty of fly fishing, being respectful, a safer outdoor sport.

In the fall of 2020, Colorado was hit hard by multiple fires; a truly harmful component to add to Covid-19, where drought conditions across the state are one of the largest components leading to the start of fires. Inside the drought, Colorado natives fear fires would be one of the biggest threats within the drought issue across the state. In the fall of 2020, there were three fires: Cameron Peak, East Troublesome, and the Pine Gulch Fire that burned a total of 541,732 acres. These three fires, which burn in record, represent the three largest Colorado fires by area in state history.

Photo by Rob Stout @thefishingdj by @northparkanglers

As these fires burned precious forest and desert areas, they have left traces altering river ecosystems, raising water temperatures and eventually leading to river sedimentation. The various owners and guides of the Fly Shop in Colorado have learned to adapt in flight to the weather conditions and customers canceling morning trips. However, Jeff Ehlert of the Winter Park Flyfisher & Grand County Fishing Company, along with Scott Graham of the North Park Anglers, never appreciated the strength of these fires – burning thousands of acres of blue-striped trout permitted public and private water.

Flylords: How did the East Troublesome, Mullen and Cameron Peak fires affect your business?

Ehlert: “Initially, we had canceled trips from East Troublesome and a bit from the Williams Fork fire. “But a bigger impact came with the degraded water quality over the next summer.”

Graham: “Apart from road closures, forest closures and terrible smoke, the East Troublesome and Cameron Peak fires did not have any serious impact on the North Park Anglers. The fires that had the biggest effect on our company were Beaver Creek and Mullen Fire. The most significant direct impact we could assess was the closure of the national forest, closing access to the miles of rivers and lakes we regularly fish.

Flylords: Are the Colorado, North Platte and Poudre rivers able to recover from fires? What did you witness?

Ehlert: “Yes, they are and they will recover, but it will take time. “These fires were needed at one point to clear up all the deaths that have occurred over the last 20 years.”

Graham: “Currently, we have not seen any problems with North Platte or any of its branches as fishing. The fish seem to be healthy and the life of aquatic insects also seems to be in excellent condition. However, we have not had a heavy leak or any heavy rain that could cause serious erosion. There are new trees that are constantly falling into the river, which causes safety concerns when navigating and fishing with cotton wool. We have seen the river flood several times; but it seems to be clearing quickly and sediment does not seem to be accumulating anywhere. ” These fires were very different from each other and the direct impacts will not be measurable for years to come. The Beaver Creek and Mullen fires along North Platte appear to have been healthy fires along the drains we fish. The grass is turning thick and there are not many moon-shaped burn areas. However, we have been in such a drought that it is very difficult to distinguish. “If we had a lot of snow and or a lot of rain, I think there could be some important erosion issues that could be catastrophic for fishing.”

Photo taken by Rob Stout @thefishingdj by @northparkanglers

Flylords: What are the effects of river ecology and entomology from these catastrophic fires?

Ehlert: “If you had asked me last fall, I would have told you that I was afraid our number of invertebrates would decrease this year, but after spending time in the river this spring, I think the caddis hatch and the BWO hatch were “This year is better than last year. I still expect a lot of sediment in the river whenever it rains heavily this summer, but I’m more optimistic about the health of the Colorado River this year.”

Photo courtesy of the Greater County Sheriff’s Office.

Graham: “So far, we have not seen many problems from an ecological or entomological point of view directly related to fires.”

Flylords: What do you think will happen to local rivers in the Grand, Jackson and Larimer counties in the coming years? Is fishing at risk?

Ehlert: “Fires add a sediment load to rivers in the years after fires, but this is not the danger that threatens our rivers the most. Excessive penetration of our rivers is what endangers these rivers. The Colorado River is consistently ranked in the top 3 most endangered rivers in our country with the front radius receiving 60% of its flows over the continental shelf creating high temperatures. In 2021, the Fraser River (A tributary
on the Colorado River) flows at 360 CFS on the same day that Colorado flows at 320 CFS. The Colorado River really did not experience any real runoff in 2021, which any healthy river should remain.

Graham: “Being a biologist, I can not really talk about it. In general, I think fires are healthy, even though each one is caused by humans; it was only a matter of time before something turned them on. “

Photo by Rob Stout, North Park Anglers.

Flylords: Did you change your business or did you have to because of the fire?

Ehlert: “We have not changed our business except to cancel trips due to high turbulence when it rained heavily last summer. “From time to time we have had to cancel trips for the same reason in the years before the fires, but this has happened less frequently in previous years.”

Photo courtesy of the Greater County Sheriff’s Office.

Flylords: Tell us more about yourself, the company you own and what guided tours you have available for all levels of fishermen.

Jeff Ehlert, Owner of Flyfisher Winter Park with a healthy brown trout.

Ehlert: My name is Jeff Ehlert, I am originally from Montana and have been swimming and fishing here in Colorado and South Central Wyoming since 2004. In 2007, we opened our own flight shop to complement our business of equipment. Our store, Winter Park Flyfisher is located on the banks of the Fraser River. We offer the largest selection of flies in our region and an extensive fly linking section. Hopefully you stop if you find yourself near the fountains of the Colorado River. We love hearing your fish stories and are happy to guide you to the best fishing in Grand County. “

Scott Graham, Owner of North Park Anglers.

Graham: “My name is Scott Graham. “I’m a Colorado native and have worked for North Park Anglers since 2003. North Park Anglers is the lead manufacturer and Fly Shop in Walden, Colorado.”

Are you interested in booking with Flyfisher Winter Park or North Park Anglers?

Click here to book with Flyfisher Winter Park or call (970) 726-5231

To book with North Park Anglers, please call (970) 723-4215

Article by Winter Park Flyfisher guide and Flylords magazine intern Nelson Oxley, give him a follow on Instagram at @nelson_oxley.

See the article below:

Fire and Fish: How a wildfire changes river ecosystems

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