Nestled among the slopes of Steamboat’s Ski Resort, there flows a stream to which a healthy population of natives call home. These natives are a sub species of the Cutthroat Trout, known as Colorado River Cutthroat Trout (CRCTs). While once widespread through Colorado, they now only occupy 11% of their historic range. Thanks to recent conservation efforts, this number is on the rise, and local populations are beginning to flourish.
Take the Burgess Creek population for example. Once confined to a short stretch of the water and outcompeted by stocked Brook Trout, these fish have made an impressive conquest of their territory over the past decade. With the construction of man-made waterfalls to prevent the Brook Trout from advancing upstream, and the implementation of regular electrofishing to remove them, CRCTs are finally able to return to a large portion of the creek they’ve long called home.
I first discovered these incredible fish back in 2012 when exploring the creek one summer afternoon. Not knowing much about them, they continued to captivate my attention each time I returned to Steamboat. Their resilience to survive in such a small creek, surrounded by townhomes, apartments, and ski slopes never failed to amaze me. It wasn’t until this past summer where I learned of their history and remarkable perseverance to maintain their home waters against all odds. This was not just another population of stocked fish that ventured upstream, but a royal lineage fighting for their kingdom to return to its former glory.
This was not only an endeavor I could get behind, but one I had to see for myself. With a 7’6” 3 wt in hand (which turned out to be overkill) and my girlfriend in tow, we ventured up the mountain in search of these Colorado River Cutthroat Trout.
Aside from a bit of bushwhacking, it did not take us long to find some hungry fish. With a parachute adams drifting through the fast water, I was ecstatic to land our first CRCT, and despite it being only 3” long, I convinced my girlfriend that this was quite an impressive specimen.
With plenty more water to cover, we continued upstream, casting into each pool, finding healthy trout in abundance.
Nearing the end of our time, we spotted a fish that had to be pushing 12”, patiently surveying its territory without much concern of predators. With a delicately placed cast and a perfectly timed drift, this creek monster pushed towards the surface, opened its mouth, and promptly missed. The frustration brought on by this trout’s lack of depth perception sent the rest of my casts into the brush as it swam upstream and disappeared below a waterfall.
Unable to let that fish go, we called it a day, promising to see him next year after growing a few more inches.
Luckily, the point of the story wasn’t to catch an incredible fish to fill my camera roll. It was to see for myself the healthy and flourishing population of Colorado River Cutthroat Trout abiding in Burgess Creek. And I think I did just that. But don’t take my word for it. Get out there and see for yourself. Give yourself a reason to support the return of these natives to their home waters, and help us make Colorado a Cutthroat dominated state once more. #thisisit
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