American Fly Fishing

By Danny Palmerlee

Below Stagecoach Reservoir, the Yampa River offers some truly remarkable fly fishing—a tailwater fishery where trophy rainbow trout and big, predatory browns hammer flies all year long. Without a doubt, it’s one of the best tailwater fisheries in Colorado.
   Last summer, in an effort to protect a coveted reach of trout water near Steamboat Springs, Western Rivers Conservancy (WRC) purchased a 43-acre property at the confluence of Sarvis Creek and the Yampa River. It includes a pinch point in the river valley, restricted by rock walls that create a series of cold, deep pools shaded by majestic spruce trees. As anyone lucky enough to have fished this stretch of the Yampa will attest, there are some big, feisty fish in here. Prolific invertebrate life, a steady flow of cool water from the reservoir, and local stream-restoration efforts have all made for habitat that produces some truly outstanding fishing.
   The lands that WRC acquired are 3 miles downstream from Stagecoach Reservoir. Local anglers covet this reach of the river, but a prime stretch of it near Sarvis Creek remained in private hands and closed to the public. This will change once WRC conveys the property to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management (BLM) for permanent conservation stewardship. But it was more than just fish that motivated the WRC.
   “The Yampa River remains one of the wildest, freest rivers in the West,” says WRC president Sue Doroff. “Our work on both the lower and upper Yampa is about conserving a great river for the sake of the river, for its outstanding fish, its incredible wildlife, and so people have a healthy stream to return to as anglers, boaters, hikers, or wildlife watchers.”
   With very few dams to impede its flow, the Yampa River is considered one of the last wild major rivers in Colorado. It flows some 250 miles from the Flat Tops Wilderness in the Rocky Mountains to the Green River, a tributary to the mighty Colorado. Along the way, it nourishes one of the finest riparian corridors in the West; the WRC is working to acquire and conserve land on both the upper and lower river. Before purchasing the Sarvis Creek property, the WRC conserved 2.5 miles of the lower Yampa at the entrance to Cross Mountain Canyon, west of Maybell. At Sarvis Creek, it saw the perfect opportunity to conserve a critical stretch of the upper river and the unique land around it.
In addition to creating access to some truly great fly fishing, the WRC’s acquisition will conserve some of the last unprotected lands within an area otherwise protected by wilderness, parks, and wildlife areas. The property is bordered by the Sarvis Creek Wilderness, the Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area, and BLM lands. By completing this mosaic of protected areas, WRC is able to conserve not just vital fish habitat, but also habitat for Rocky Mountain elk, black bear, mountain lion, mule deer, and even Canada lynx, which have been spotted in the region. In the future, the project may also create new access opportunity
for hunters.
   Until the WRC acquired the property, it belonged to the Hubbard family, which once owned a sheep ranch that spanned thousands of acres along and around the Yampa River. Much of that land now lies beneath the cold waters of Stagecoach Reservoir and within the Sarvis Creek State Wildlife Area, which today protects the lower reaches of Sarvis Creek and several miles of the Yampa. But the Hubbards always hung on to their summer place, a very special 43 acres of land around Sarvis Creek and the Yampa River. This was where the family set up camp each summer and grazed its sheep during the warmer months. And it was the place to which the kids returned each year to enjoy summers on the river. Today, a cabin that the family built in 1956 still stands on the banks of the Yampa.
   As the Hubbard children grew older and moved away, they used the property less and found it harder to manage. Eventually, the family decided to sell; the WRC immediately recognized the need to conserve the property and purchased it in the summer of 2013. The organization, which refers to the project as the “Hubbard’s Summer Place,” is now working to convey the lands to the BLM and Forest Service for management within the adjacent protected areas.
   Once the project is complete, nearly all land surrounding the confluence of Sarvis Creek and the Yampa River will be protected. And a cherished stretch of fly water, where hefty rainbows lie in wait year-round, will be open to the public for the first time in memory.


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