How do you move thousands of flopping fish? Very carefully.

Antero sport fish catch a ride to other waterways while reservoir drains for reconstruction

August 13, 2015 | By: Jay Adams

Rainbows, browns, cutthroats and kokanee salmon are on the move in Park County. It’s a change needed to save the sport fish while Antero Dam goes through a $20 million upgrade.

Denver Water drained the popular fishing spot south of Fairplay this summer to make improvements to Antero’s 100-year-old earthen dam. Lowering the water came with one big catch — what to do with thousands of fish?

Denver Water teamed up with Colorado Parks and Wildlife to find an answer. The solution: Find new homes for the fish.

As the water level dropped, thousands of fish went through the reservoir’s outlet tunnel. Instead of heading down the South Platte River, the crews trapped them in nets and loaded them onto specially designed trucks equipped with holding tanks.

Jeff Spohn, an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, said the teams took every precaution to keep the fish “healthy and happy” during the move.

Spohn said about 10,000 pounds of fish were relocated during the salvage operation.

Some of the fish were relocated to Eleven Mile Canyon, Spinney and Tarryall reservoirs, while others were moved to smaller, kid-friendly ponds north of Fairplay and to Staunton State Park west of Conifer. All the reservoirs and ponds are in Park County, so anglers won’t have to go far to find the fish.

The dam project will use contemporary technology to improve safety and bring the dam up to current engineering standards.

Once the work is complete, the water level is scheduled to return to a depth of 18 feet. “This increased depth really helps the fish get through the long winters at Antero,” said Brandon Ransom, manager of recreation for Denver Water. “The deeper the water, the better the oxygen level, which leads to less stress on the fish in winter.”

The improvements to the century-old dam will ensure it will last for another 100 years. The reservoir is expected to fill by 2018 depending on mountain snow and other factors.

Check out this interactive map to see dozens of other recreational opportunities in Park County.

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