First of three fish stocking projects complete

Pagosa Springs anglers, grab your gear.

Once again, the Pagosa Quality Fishing Project (PQFP) has augmented the San Juan River rainbow trout population through town.

Last Thursday, in the first of three planned supplemental stockings, the organization planted roughly 1,100 pounds of 1- to 3-pound fish in pools between the “Sixth Street Bend” and the Conoco station near the intersection of U.S. 160 and U.S. 84. According to a stocking schedule provided by program coordinator Thadeus Cano, the breakdown included approximately 745 1-pound rainbows and 114 3-pounders.

This spring, workers using heavy equipment reshaped some of the pools and rock structures between the Hot Springs Boulevard bridge and a sweeping bend where the river virtually meets Sixth Street. The intent was to enhance boating features and fish habitat, while reducing the likelihood of flooding at The Springs Resort.

Given the improved holding water, stocking began near the bend, just west of Centennial Park. Cano’s schedule suggests similar stockings will take place June 29 and July 13, resulting in the approximate addition of another 1,500 1-pounders and 230 3-pounders.

The project, now entering its seventh season, is an annual supplemental river-stocking program that typically adds several hundred pounds of large, to very large, catchable trout in the stretch of river between the Apache Street bridge and the Conoco upstream. It relies solely on the generous contributions of a long list of Pagosa area citizens, merchants and financial institutions who have supported it to the benefit of local tourism.

Donations have increased steadily each year, with those of 2008 totaling an unusually high $61,000. This year, the project hopes to raise about $25,000, with half that amount already pledged. Nearly $2,500 will come from out-of-state contributors, some of which is among the $10,300 already collected.

In an interview last Thursday, Cano said collecting the full targeted amount will allow the project to stock fish in the ponds at River Center Park (behind The Malt Shoppe). Considering the current economic downturn, the group originally thought stocking might have to be confined to just the river. Given the project’s uncommon ability to appropriate revenue, however, sustains hope that soon, rainbows will also be added to the ponds.

Even as PQFP supplements the San Juan trout population, the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will add another 3,125 10-inch “Hofer-cross” rainbow trout to the river, beginning next week. The division anticipates stocking on up to four separate occasions over the summer, with plantings alternating between PQFP dates. Hofer-cross rainbows are a hybrid trout created by cross-breeding wild fish with hatchery-raised Hofer rainbows, which are apparently resistant to the deadly affects of Whirling Disease.

As it typically does each summer, the DOW will also introduce 10,000 fingerling Hofer-cross rainbows and 5,000 brown trout fingerlings to the river. Fingerlings are young hatchery-raised fish about 3 inches in length, many of which grow to catchable size in a year or two.

To disperse angling pressure somewhat, the DOW will also stock 3,000 catchable trout in the East Fork of the San Juan, in reaches below the first bridge. Every summer, the agency stocks several million catchable and sub-catchable trout in a broad variety of state waters, with the San Juan generally receiving its share.

When asked why so much money and effort should go toward improved fishing through town, Cano suggested it’s all about economics. To make money, the community must spend it. He believes creating and sustaining an outstanding fishery directly benefits summer tourism.

“Providing this level of fishing right through town is a real benefit to the local economy,” he said. “Fishermen can walk to the river and catch big fish, while their families shop local stores, and they can all meet for lunch.”

To support his claim, Cano — as an employee at a local sporting goods store — reported that hunters and fishermen spent an average of $1.6 million a year in Archuleta County over the past three years, just on over-the-counter licenses alone. That equates to about 31,000 licenses, a number he says has captured the attention of the county, which is now considering a future budget item for the marketing of hunting and fishing locally.