Taking a look at the range of Rio Grand cutthroat trout

In 2008, the recovery of Rio Grande cutthroat trout was stymied by this fact: Only 57 percent of streams then holding the disappearing fish were considered good habitat.

A study of Rio Grande cutt habitat by John Alves, Southwest Senior Aquatic Biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife and a member of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout Conservation Team, sparked some interest in a handful of anglers who figured if the fish was on the verge of disappearing, maybe they should catch one, just to say they did.

So it was a few years ago that local anglers Pat Oglesby, John Trammell and a young Tyler Befus, now living in Minnesota, went in search of Rio Grande cutts with little more than a map and a few hints to guide them.

The group headed south, following rumors saying scattered populations of the fish were swimming in several small streams north of Saguache, feeder streams of the Rio Grande.

Angling, also called public outreach, plays a big part in the trout’s conservation. Fishing is allowed under very restrictive regulations as a way to spur interest and a sense of propriety in a fish barely big enough to cover your hand.

The small streams were low and much of the day was spent seeking signs of the elusive fish, all the while dodging a herd of cattle grazing along the stream.

Each time a cow crossed the stream, it kicked up a flume of mud as black as squid ink.

Over-grazing and the accompanying water quality degradation play a significant role in the demise of native trout.

Trout depend on grassy banks for cover and undercut banks for resting spots and the loss of riparian vegetation leads to higher summer water temperatures.

“Tyler caught the one and only Rio Grande that day, as I recall,” Trammell said in a recent email. “A few weeks later I returned to the same place, and caught several of them. Quit when I thought I’d hassled them enough.”


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