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Release date: 05/16/1997
COLORADO'S ONLY NATIVE TROUT A SPECIAL CATCH FOR ANGLERS
DENVER -- Imagine a time when an angler can cast into a high country
lake, hook a native cutthroat trout and keep one of Colorado's finest for
dinner or for mounting.
That's the ultimate goal Division of Wildlife aquatic managers have for
Colorado's cutthroat trout: the Rio Grande cutthroat, Colorado River
cutthroat and the greenback cutthroat -- named the state fish in 1994.
"Our ultimate goal is to have native cutthroats as components of the
Division's sportfish recreation program," said Tom Nessler, a Division
aquatic biologist who works with nongame and native fish recovery
"This would imply cutthroats are so stable we can move past protecting
populations and move on to providing sportfish recreation with harvest,"
Nessler said. "It would mean cutthroats are well distributed and abundant
enough to sustain harvest mortality."
Although significant progress has been made in resurrecting the state's
native cutthroat populations, the Division is not yet at the point of
allowing harvest of Colorado's only native trout.
But anglers can get a flavor for native cutthroats using catch and
release methods. Not bad, considering greenbacks were thought to be
extinct until the 1960s when some remote populations were discovered. At
the time, Rio Grande and Colorado River cutthroat where thought to be the
only remaining native trout populations, which were at critically low
As ubiquitous as rainbow, brook and brown trout may be in the Rocky
Mountain West, they are relatively recent arrivals. Little more than 100
years ago, the only trout found east of California through Montana, and
south to northern Mexico were cutthroats. All of Colorado's rivers
renowned today for rainbow and brown trout fishing, such as the Gunnison,
South Platte, Colorado and Arkansas, were inhabited by cutthroat trout.
Researchers say the species existed in what's now Colorado for about
8,000 years. But overharvest, loss of habitat caused by water
exploitation, mining, logging, agriculture and land development along
with competition from non-native species, led to the cutthroats'
downfall. One species, the yellowfin, was forever lost around the turn of
the century. But thanks to recovery programs, the tide has turned for
Colorado's remaining native trout.
Greenbacks are making a comeback in the upper South Platte and Arkansas
river drainages; Colorado River cutthroats are recovering on the Western
Slope; and Rio Grande cutthroats have made a comeback in the southern
part of the state with help from the Division's recovery programs. "The
management technique we're using is to emphasize native cutthroat trout
in Colorado's headwaters -- high elevation lakes and streams," Nessler
Recovery for the greenback cutthroat trout has been nothing short of
spectacular. If all goes according to the Division's plans, the greenback
may be removed from the federal endangered species list by the year 2000.
"We're two populations away from meeting population goals. We have 22
populations now, we need 24," Nessler said.
Currently there are more greenback populations than required by the U.S.
Fish and Wildlife Service in the South Platte. There are 19 separate
populations; 15 are required. In the Arkansas River, however, five are
needed; currently there are just three. Colorado River cutthroats are
considered species of special concern and are making a recovery on the
"We have 22 populations that we consider to be pure. They're similar to
the status of the Greenbacks," Nessler pointed out. Rio Grande cutthroats
are considered species of special concern. They've made a comeback in
drainage throughout the southern part of the state.
"The Rio Grandes have 38 populations that we believe are safe and
secure," Nessler said.
Colorado's native cutthroat thrive in clear, cold, clean streams. For
anglers who invest the effort to see backcountry locations, all these
fish can be caught using catch-and-release methods.
"We allow catch-and-release of these species to evaluate the ability of
these populations to provide sportfish opportunities," Nessler said. "We
have not lost a native cutthroat population to angling mortality. That
gives us reason for optimism."
High-country cutthroats feed ravenously when the ice thaws and the water
begins to warm. The best fishing usually involves a fly or a fly and
bubble rig. In clear lakes cutthroats can be easily seen cruising along
the banks in the shallows looking for insects. A small spinning lure can
also be effective at times.
Greenback, Colorado River and Rio Grande cutthroat -- Colorado's native
trout. With the help of wildlife managers, each survived the perils of
encroachment and overharvest. And today Colorado anglers have a special
opportunity to experience a link with an important part of Colorado's
Please send comments, questions or requests for more information on this
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