Ethical Angler on Rivers and Streams

Catch and Release

Colorado is a rapidly growing state with limited public access for fishing rivers and streams. To preserve our sport fishery for everybody, the Headwaters Chapter of Trout Unlimited encourages catch and release practices. Even when practicing catch and release, improper handling of trout can lead to mortality.

If you are lucky enough to get  trout in your net you must be very careful in how you handle them. A good rule of thumb is to not have them out of water any longer than you can hold your breath. Remember that they are not breathing while they are out of the water. Ideally you should be able to remove your hook without touching the fish. A barbless hook in the lip of a trout can be removed by holding your line in one hand and removing the hook using a forceps in the other while the trout is laying in your net. Please knock the barb down on your flies before using them or removing the hook will be much more bothersome and you will be hurting the fish. On public water each fish will be caught about 40 times a season so it is very important to use a barbless hook to keep from damaging their mouths. If you do have a difficult hook to remove and have to hold the fish never grab a trout with dry hands or with sunscreen on your hands. Trout have a thin protective skin layer that is easily removed, so wet your hands first. Once the hook is removed, return the fish to water ASAP. If the fish has been weakened by playing it too long then holding them upright and moving them from side to side will help them get oxygen to their gills and they will be able to swim off on their own. You can gently hold them by their tale with their belly resting on your open palm until they start to swim off on their own. A properly released fish will assure that many fly fishers will enjoy the same thrill you just had in catching your trout.


Trout are a cold water fishery. Higher water temperatures in the warmer days of summer stress trout. An ethical fly fisher will have a thermometer (can be purchased at your local fly shop) in their pocket and use it when fishing. At 65 degrees F stream temperatures are warm enough to allow some of the dissolved oxygen in the water to escape as a gas into the atmosphere. This stresses the trout which need all the oxygen they can get. Even if you catch and release a trout at 65 degrees F they are already stressed and probably will not survive the ordeal of being caught and released. At 70 degrees F enough dissolved oxygen escapes from the water that trout will die. Some of the rivers and streams in Grand County record temperatures a high as 74 degrees F, so use a thermometer if you are out on a hot day. During the hotter days of summer it is usually safe to fish in the morning and quit when the temperature gets to 65. Before going fishing you can also check the USGS realtime temperature gauges on the Fraser and Colorado Rivers. 

Take good care of the trout and they will be here for everyone to enjoy.