Denver Water, one of the largest landowners in Colorado and the state’s largest water utility, is implementing a new permitting system for commercial fishing guides on a prized stretch of the South Platte River near Deckers.
If the new system is well-received and works as planned, the agency will likely add similar permitting requirements at other sites. Currently Denver Water is studying use at Williams Fork Reservoir, on the West Slope, and Antero Reservoir near Fairplay, according to Brandon Ransom, Denver Water’s recreation manager.
The new South Platte River permitting system is designed to reduce wear and tear on the stream and generate enough cash to allow the water utility to improve parking, restrooms and trash pickup in the area. Only outfitters require a commercial permit to fish the area — individuals don’t need a special permit, just a fishing license. The system started in January.
“We had been watching that section of river for a while. Use has increased and during COVID things got very busy,” Ransom said. “That section is gold medal. We want to make sure it keeps that status. That’s a big goal for us up there.”
Gold medal trout fisheries are those valued for their cold waters and large fish, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the department that manages the state’s fishing industry.
Of the state’s 9,000 miles of trout streams, just 322 miles are designated gold medal, according to the Colorado Fishing Network.
As Colorado’s population has grown, so has pressure on its hallmark streams. Nationwide, the state ranks 26th among states for the popularity of its lakes and streams among people who fish, according to the World Population Review.
Dennis Steinbeck owns The Blue Quill Angler in Evergreen and was among the commercial outfitters who worked with Denver Water to set up the permitting system. He received one of the first commercial permits issued earlier this year.
Steinbeck said he has mixed feelings about the program, although he said it will help protect that portion of the South Platte.
“Basically we fully support it. We think it is a good idea because there was a lot of illegal guiding going on in that area. The downside is that our costs are going up and the volume of our trips we can put out there is going down. That squeezes us.”
On a cold March weekday, only a handful of people were wading the river. As it meanders along Douglas County Road 97, the river flows through private and public properties. Major agencies, such as the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management, already require commercial permits, Ransom said.
Denver Water was the only agency in the area, until now, that did not require them, according to Ransom.
“Previous to our permit system there was U.S. Forest Service land that had a handful of permits. And then everybody else that wanted to go use the properties up there would go on Denver Water property,” Ransom said.
“Now the outfitters know that pretty much everything up there is a permitted area,” he said.
In its first year operating, Denver Water opted to issue permits to 23 outfitters who adhere to a daily limit of six anglers on the rivers. Their permits cost 4% of their trip fees, according to Ransom.
Steinbeck said he hopes eventually to convince the agency to increase the number of people guides can take out on the river on a daily basis.
His second hope is that the river will be carefully monitored and illegal guide operators identified and cited.
“We will play by the rules, but we want to make sure there is enough enforcement when there are bad actors out there. We want to see rangers to enforce this on the river,” Steinbeck said.
Denver Water said it has plans to ensure adequate enforcement of the new rules, including hiring a special ranger to patrol the river.
Correction: This story has been corrected to show that Antero reservoir is near Fairplay and is not on the West Slope.
Jerd Smith is editor of Fresh Water News. She can be reached at 720-398-6474, via email at email@example.com or @jerd_smith.
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