After irrigation season around each October, the Purgatoire River water flow slows significantly to a trickle until the time comes again for watering crops in spring. But the Purgatoire Watershed Partnership (PWP), a local stakeholder watershed group that works to find solutions to ongoing concerns in the Purgatoire River, recently discovered there may be an increasing need to keep a steady flow throughout the year to support the quickly growing wildlife populations around the river, especially in regards to trout.
“Trout will actually lay their eggs on gravel and they sink down into it,” said Howard Lackey, a board member of the PWP and a representative of the recreation aspect of the river. He is also co-owner, along with his wife Nancy Lackey, of Moose’s Social Club and Martini Bar on Main Street in Trinidad.
“They develop in that gravel base,” Lackey said, “and when they finally come out of their egg as a little fry, they have to work their way out of the gravel and it has to be wet the whole time so they can make it out and into the stream.”
Lackey said the PWP has been working over the past several weeks conducting studies on the river to determine the feasibility of a continued water flow through the year as well as to determine the success of the organization and the state’s fishery programs.
“About four weeks ago we did an electro shock to get a record of the sizes and numbers of the fish populations,” said Lackey. “All the shock does is stuns everything in the water momentarily. You catch it all then identify, weigh and return it back to the river. That’s what tells us what’s going on in the river.”
“Part of what we’re doing the survey for is to see exactly what results the PWP’s fish stocking programs have been,” said Lackey. “The state also puts in stock. They stock the upper end of the river and we stock the lower end.”
“What we’re trying to do is develop the fishery to the point that instead of shutting it off at the end of the irrigation season we figure out a way to extend more flow downstream for a longer period of time so the fish have a chance to spawn, especially brown trout,” Lackey said.
Lackey explained that, so far, the studies have shown some really positive results in terms of wildlife population and health.
“As far as weights go, with brown trout the range was around two to six and a half pounds,” Lackey said. “With the rainbow trout, the range was from around a pound and a half to about three and a half. All of them were fat, colorful and in good shape which shows the food is good.”
Lackey continued, “With the small minnows and white suckers and all that we’ve found, it’s a good indication of the food and water qualities being really good. The biggest thing was people thought the fish were going to die because they shut the water off, but because of the habitat that we’ve built for them, they’ve retreated to that deeper water and winter over just fine. They’ve been growing like crazy though, so that wont be enough space for them forever.”
With the increasing amounts of trout being found in the river, Lackey said other professionals are taking note and see good things ahead for Trinidad’s outdoor recreation, especially in terms of fishing and wildlife viewing.
“Greg Polike, who used to be the habitat specialist for the Parks and Wildlife, mentioned Trinidad could be a really good destination spot for fishers, especially for those fishing for brown trout,” said Lackey.
“The work with the Purgatoire is a continuing process,” Lackey continued, “and the thing that’s going to be nice about it is this will tie in real well with the state parks. People that come to Trinidad can hike, bike, go fish, and really have a lot of different opportunities for outdoor recreation.”
Lackey stated he’d been fishing since he was a small fry, himself, and has a personal fondness for the art of fly-fishing that is prominent in this area.
“The thing about fly-fishing is you have to know a little bit more about fish and their habitat, what they’re going to eat, and where they’re going to hang out,” said Lackey. “There’s more to it than throwing a spinner in and hoping. That doesn’t really mimic anything that’s in the river or the lake it’s just something that they strike at because it’s making a lot of noise. But you get a fly and you get it matched to what the fish are used to feeding on, put it out there with subtlety and stealth, make it look as natural as possible and know where they’re going to be, they’ll take it.”
Lackey said that the results of the study along the river should soon be finished and has some positive statistics to help with the continued health and growth of the Purgatoire.
“We’ve made a lot of progress with it and I feel like we’re pretty close,” said Lackey. “I’d like to see that we get that plan in place by October. It won’t be running like it is during the summer, but it’ll be enough flow to add to the survivability of the fish and the spawn.”
As PWP moves into 2020, Lackey said they look forward to finishing the study as well as continue cleaning up the downtown section of the river.
“Our big plans for this coming year are finishing up our study and continuing the cleanup and brush removal along the river all the way up to Boulevard if not further,” Lackey said. “We want to get the corridor much more usable for everybody without having to worry about any issues so it’s used for what it’s supposed to be used for.”