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Thursday, December 04, 2014

Pecos River on the Mend Latest Fish Count Shows

State Department of Game and Fish staff assisted by volunteers from the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited search for fish in the Pecos River at the Pecos National Historical Park (PNHP) in October 2014. Photo courtesy of Bill Zenger.
The fire and flood ravaged Pecos River is on the mend with evidence of trout moving back into devastated areas to help revive the popular fishery.

“It’s recovering and we’re optimistic it’ll come back around in another year or two,” said Richard Hansen, Cold Water Fisheries Supervisor for the state Department of Game and Fish (NMDGF) following a recent survey of the river. “It looks much healthier than it did last year.”

The river suffered a major blow in the wake of the big Tres Lagunas Fire last May when summer rains raced off blackened, barren hillsides and flooded the river with mud, ash and debris. 

Native fish and insects were smothered in the onslaught and the river was essentially dead for many miles. 

Sept. 2013 Flooding on Glorieta Creek, a tributary that joins the Pecos River just below the Forked Lightning Ranch House within the park. Photo Courtesy of PNHP.
The fire and flooding caused so much damage downstream at the Pecos National Historical Park that its popular fly fishing program had to be suspended after a post fire NMDGF survey found only one small trout in three miles of river within the park. 

A previous survey of the same water in 2010 revealed about 250 trout in those three miles, Hansen said.

An angler fishes on the Pecos River below the Forked Lightning Ranch House at PHNP back in 2010. ODNM File Photo.
The angling program will remain suspended until conditions improve, said Park Superintendent, Karl Cordova.

In the meantime the survey conducted this October by NMDGF staff and volunteers from the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited showed some promising signs of recovery on the river , said Art Volmer, Vice President of the club of about 500 members.

“There’s still lots of sediment in some of the deeper holes and it’s not anywhere near what it was.” Volmer said of the river and trout population in the park. “But generally speaking things looked pretty good.”

Silt, sediment and other fire debris smothered the Pecos River in the wake of the  Tres Lagunas fire last summer.
The survey crew found plenty of bugs in the water, a variety of species of fish including stocked rainbow and natural reproducing brown trout and bait fish like chubs, dace and sucker fish as well.

The fall survey discovered 29 fish of varying sizes including a 14-incher among some 16 Brown trout found, Hansen of NMDGF said. The crew also discovered 13 Rainbow trout of which the largest was a 17-incher, he added.

One of the Brown trout found by crews surveying the Pecos River  within the Pecos National Historical Park in October 2014.
Hansen said it was his understanding that the two private ranches just above and below the park’s boundaries stock Rainbow trout for recreational fishing purposes and that some of those fish may have migrated into the park.

National Park Service policy precludes the park from stocking non-native game fish such as Brown or Rainbow trout in its waters and the river’s condition is not suitable for stocking with native Rio Grande Cutthroat trout, Cordova said.

Which is why the survey crew found it most encouraging when they came across evidence of spawning activity by resident Brown trout, Volmer said. 

The crew found a freshly created “Redd” where a fish had cleared off an area in the gravel streambed upon which to lay eggs.

Volmer said he would like to see some restoration and improvements to the fishing habitat in the park while the river is on the mend.

Volmer suggested that the placement of rock structures in the water to improve depth and flow could help move sediment along and the planting of shady cottonwood trees along the banks could also help cool the river during hot summer months which would be beneficial to the trout.

Cordova said no such projects are currently in the works but that he looks forward to working with TU in the future on issues regarding the river’s health.

Mark Cordova at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument. Photo courtesy of Joey Chenoweth of the Coolidge Examiner.
Cordova is the park’s new superintendent having taken over in July. He hails from Pueblo Colorado and is a 22-year veteran of the National Park Service.

Cordova most recently served at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument in southern Arizona. Prior to that he served at Rocky Mountain National Park and did a two stint in Washington DC as a legislative Affairs Specialist.

Cordova’s first posting was to Yellowstone National Park and he holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Outdoor Recreation and a Master’s Degree in Park and Protected Area Management from Colorado State University in Fort Collins. He is married and the father of two sons ages 10 and 12 and lives with his family in El Dorado.

The NMDGF survey also took in other areas of the Pecos River devastated by the fire including the Windy Bridge recreation area where crews found 38 Brown trout compared with 103 during the last survey in 2004, Hansen said.

At another stretch of the river adjacent to the department’s Lisboa Springs Fish Hatchery crews found 9 Brown trout compared with 117 since the last survey in 2004, Hansen said.

Richard Hansen, NMDGF Cold Water Fisheries Supervisor. 
But while the overall number of fish may be way down the fact that Brown trout are back in these damaged areas is encouraging, Hansen said.

Brown trout were stocked in New Mexico waters at one time but haven’t been in decades so their presence is a good sign that the resident trout are reproducing and repopulating in those damaged areas of the river, Hansen said.

These areas may see some additional stocking with Rainbow trout to supplement angling opportunities now that water and streambed conditions there have improved, Hansen said.

NMDGF only stocks non-reproducing hybrid Rainbow trout in part to reduce crossbreeding with native Cutthroat trout that are being reintroduced throughout many areas of the state.

Volmer of the Truchas Chapter of Trout Unlimited urged the angling public to release any Brown trout caught from the Pecos River in the fire damaged areas to help the resident Brown trout population rebound.

NMDGF Staff stock rainbow trout in the Pecos River at the Jamie Koch Recreation Area at the confluence of the Pecos River and Willow Creek last summer.
In the meantime anglers will find that the upper stretches of the Pecos River above Tererro have been heavily stocked by NMDGF and continue to provide anglers with plenty of opportunities to catch fish. 

And barring any further environmental disasters anglers may find the lower Pecos has rebounded to its old self within just a few more years, Hansen said.

Read more about the fire and its effect on the Pecos River and the park's fishing program at:

 
 

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