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On the subject of western waters that may or may not be as good as they once were, subscriber James W. Brown says the South Fork of the White River in Colorado may not be nearly as good these days as correspondent Al Marlowe made it sound in our May, 1995 issue (See "Crowd Dodgers’ Delight," pp. 1 2). He writes: "My wife and I camped at the South Fork Campground this past September and fished several miles of the South Fork without raising a single fish. Two spin fishermen camped next to us left after one day. I talked to a ranger the morning we left and he advised us the river had not been stocked at all in 1995 and that whirling disease was present. I left convinced there is a serious problem with the fishing in this part of the White River System, and you may want to pass that insight along to fellow subscribers…."
We immediately sent Brown’s letter to Al Marlowe and asked him to find out if the South Fork of the White River has indeed gone into a tailspin. He, in turn, contacted Aquatic Wildlife Manager Eddie Kochman, who said there is no evidence of whirling disease in this stream. In point of fact, stocking of rainbows in the river has been curtailed to prevent the introduction of that disease. As for cutthroat trout, Kochman agreed with our published assertion that the river above the campground has a good population of naturally reproducing cutts.
So what accounts for Brown’s abysmal experience here? Marlowe thinks the culprit is the huge runoff that marred many other fishermen’s trips out West this spring and summer. Marlowe writes: "The Flat Tops area where the South Fork is found was one of the hardest hit areas in the state, with many parts of the higher wilderness not accessible until early August. Runoff in some areas did not subside until September 1 and some streams at this writing in late October are still running higher than normal. It’s my belief that Mr. Brown’s unsatisfactory experience was caused by weather related events, not whirling disease. It almost certainly had nothing to do with his level of angling expertise either. The summer of 1995 has simply been a tough one throughout the state…."
In a future issue, we plan to look much more deeply into this issue of whirling disease and which Western streams have been hurt so badly they need to be avoided. In the meantime, it’s worth noting that Western fly fishing in general has been dealt a major public relations blow by the huge runoff this year, coming as it did on top of breaking news about whirling disease. Lots of anglers are confusing the two and leaping to unnecessarily gloomy conclusions. Anyone with ideas on how we can help untangle the two issues is encouraged to write: The Angling Report.