Hidden in Plain Sight: Anatomy of an Urban Fishery – Article by Richard Pilatzke

On a cool morning in September, a group of volunteers and Colorado Parks and Wildlife(CPW) personnel thread their way between homes and condominiums and adjacent to a golf course.  Their destination is Bear Creek, a small tributary of the South Platte River in the Southwest metro Denver area.  It is a small drainage, averaging only fifteen feet in width. It is considered a transitional fishery, as it is a combination of cold water and warm water habitat for fish.  It is supported by stocking of fingerling brown trout, which thrive in the temperatures in this habitat. This group is there to conduct an electrofishing survey to gauge the health of the fish population.

A project like this is an example of cooperation between a cold water conservation group like Trout Unlimited (TU) and Colorado Parks and Wildlife.  The event was organized by the Littleton-based Cutthroat Chapter of TU.  The volunteers range in age from 16 to 76.  This project is an integral part of Cutthroat’s aggressive conservation agenda.

The day starts with the CPW personnel forming a phalanx across the stream with their electrodes that will stun the fish nearby. The TU volunteers man nets and floating fish carts to store the fish as they are recovered. Two reaches of the stream are sampled, each approximately 100 yards long.  The stream seems narrow and shallow in many places, but there are some surprisingly deep holes, some as deep as 5-6 feet. As the electrodes are passed through the water, fish start to float to the surface, stunned by the electric current.  They are carefully netted and passed to a floating net.  They are then placed in a larger holding net for counting. The CPW personnel carefully measure length and weight and the fish are released.  The results of the survey are surprising.  Out of this little urban stream we have collected three brown trout between 18 and 19 inches – beautiful buttery brown healthy fish.  We also collected more than a dozen other brown trout between 14 and 18 inches.  Also present were a group of Colorado native fish – longnose dace, whiter sucker, creek chubs, and longnose sucker.  These minnows provide an ample food source for the brown trout.

The results of our survey revealed a thriving brown trout fishery in the middle of a suburban setting.  This stream had not been electro-fished by CPW previously, so they are encouraged by our findings. Joggers, walkers and bikers pass the stream on a regular basis and most don’t know what secrets it contains.  Only a few fishermen frequent this little gem of a stream, but the rewards can be surprising. This urban fishery is clearly hiding in plain sight.