Fishing

A trout in water with black dots and red throat
The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout is native to southern Colorado and northern New Mexico.

NPS

Recent News Releases about the Reintroduction of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout in Sand Creek Drainage


This press release from Colorado Parks and Wildlife announces the recent initial reintroduction of native Rio Grande cutthroat trout into Sand Creek Lakes, part of Great Sand Dunes National Preserve.
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CPW begins to stock pure Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout into Sand Creek Lakes


MOSCA, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife successfully stocked a small number of pure Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout into Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes via helicopter on August 24.

The fish used to stock the lakes came from the nearby Medano Creek drainage, which is located in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve in the San Luis Valley. That drainage was previously restored with Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the 1980s.

By pulling trout from Medano Creek, CPW aims to accelerate the restoration project in the Sand Creek drainage by stocking a small number of adult trout capable of producing a spawn as early as 2022.

After capturing Rio Grande cutthroat trout from Medano Creek, CPW coordinated with the Colorado Division of Fire Prevention and Control to stock Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes from a helicopter, using the same bucket a firefighting helicopter would use to dump water onto a fire.

CPW will stock another 500 fingerling Rio Grande cutthroat trout spawned at the Monte Vista Hatchery later this year. That stocking will be completed via airplane.

“This is a challenging project, but it will provide ideal and protected habitat for these fish,” said CPW Senior Aquatic Biologist John Alves. “We are on our way to rebuilding a conservation population of the Rio Grande cutthroat trout.”

Last year, CPW treated the Upper Sand Creek drainage to successfully remove non-native fish.

CPW, the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and Native American tribes have been working to re-establish Rio Grande cutthroats across their native range for more than 20 years. Currently, Rio Grande cutthroat can only be found in about 12% of its historic habitat. Mining, water development, intensive land-use, stocking of non-native fish and over-fishing have caused the trout’s populations to decline significantly during the last 150 years.

The Rio Grande cutthroat is one of three native trout indigenous to Colorado. The Colorado River cutthroat is found on Colorado’s Western Slope, and the Greenback cutthroat is found in the South Platte drainage. CPW is also working on a variety of projects to restore those populations.

For more information on Rio Grande cutthroat trout, go to https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/ResearchRioGrandeCutthroatTrout.aspx

Great Sand Dunes Announces Fish Restocking in the Upper Sand Creek Drainage

News Release Date: August 20, 2021

Contact: Katherine Faz, 719-378-6341

Mosca, CO – Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), the National Park Service (NPS), and Trout Unlimited have been working to restore Rio Grande cutthroat trout to its native waters since 2004. The current focus area for Rio Grande cutthroat trout restoration is the Sand Creek drainage in the Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, including the Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes as well as Sand Creek.

Last summer, CPW, NPS and other partners successfully removed non-native fish populations from the Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes and the upper reach of Sand Creek within Great Sand Dunes National Preserve. Over the coming weeks, CPW will begin restocking these areas with the native Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

If weather conditions allow, CPW will operate a helicopter in the Music and Medano Pass areas on August 23 and 24, 2021, to stock Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes with Rio Grande cutthroat trout from the Medano Creek drainage. Medano Creek, located within Great Sand Dunes National Preserve, was restored with Rio Grande cutthroat trout in the 1980s. Staff from CPW and Great Sand Dunes will capture Rio Grande cutthroat trout from Medano Creek and transfer them to Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes to speed up the recovery effort in the Sand Creek drainage. The adult-sized Rio Grande cutthroat trout from Medano Creek would be old enough to spawn in the Sand Creek Lakes in summer 2022. CPW will also stock Upper and Lower Sand Creek Lakes with young Rio Grande cutthroat trout raised at Haypress Lake via airplane this fall.

These restocking activities will not result in any restrictions to visitor access within Great Sand Dunes National Preserve; however, visitors should be aware that helicopters may be operating in the area during the week of August 23, which may affect the visitor experience.

For more information on this multi-year partnership restoration project, contact Resource Management Specialist, Fred Bunch at Fred_Bunch@nps.gov. For more information on the status of helicopter operations, contact the Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center at 719-378-6395.

Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout

Rio Grande cutthroat trout (Oncorhynchus clarki virginalis) historically occupied the upper portion of the Rio Grande Basin and associated drainages in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico. At present, Rio Grande Cutthroat only occupy about 15% of that range, mostly in the headwater streams in the upper Rio Grande watershed. Medano Creek within Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve serves as important biological refugia for this trout, because it is a closed system where exotic species cannot enter. The creeks are bounded by alpine basins at their source, and the desert valley floor at their terminus. Rio Grande cutthroat trout are catch and release only; they are on the candidate list for threatened/endangered species status at the federal level. The US Fish and Wildlife Service determined in 2009 that while there is sufficient evidence to support federal listing under The Endangered Species Act, the listing is currently precluded due to higher priorities. These trout are currently on the Colorado state threatened and endangered list as a Species of Special Concern. Park resource managers coordinate closely with Colorado Parks and Wildlife on management of Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout at Great Sand Dunes to conserve current populations and look for reintroduction opportunities.

 
A man fishes in an alpine lake with green grass, rocks and snow
Great Sand Dunes National Preserve has forest and alpine habitat for native Rio Grande cutthroat trout.

NPS Photo

Fishing in Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve offers fishing in accordance with State of Colorado regulations In the Medano and Sand Creek Drainages. For more information on how fishing regulations work in national parks, go to the NPS Fish and Fishing website.

Licenses

Visitors fishing within Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve must follow the fishing license requirements in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Colorado.

Fishing Regulations

Except as provided below, fishing shall be in accordance with the laws and regulations of the State of Colorado (36CFR2.3). For state fishing regulations go to the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website. The fishing regulations apply to all “finfish” found in the park. Other taxa, including amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans (e.g. waterdogs, crayfish) are not considered “fish” for the purpose of NPS fishing regulations and addressed by NPS regulations governing wildlife (36CFR2.2). These fishing regulations apply, regardless of land ownership, on all lands and waters within the park that are under the legislative jurisdiction of the United States. The following are prohibited:

  • Fishing in fresh waters in any manner other than by hook and line, with the rod or line being closely attended.
  • Possessing or using as bait for fishing in freshwaters, live or dead minnows or other bait fish, amphibians, non-preserved fish eggs or fish roe, except in designated waters.
  • Chumming or placing preserved or fresh fish eggs, fish roe, food, fish parts, chemicals, or other foreign substances in fresh waters for the purpose of feeding or attracting fish in order that they may be taken.
  • Commercial fishing, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law.
  • Fishing by the use of drugs, poisons, explosives, or electricity.
  • Digging for bait, except in privately owned lands.
  • Failing to return carefully and immediately to the water from which it was taken a fish that does not meet size or species restrictions or that the person chooses not to keep. Fish so released shall not be included in the catch or possession limit: Provided, that at the time of catching the person did not possess the legal limit of fish.
  • Fishing from motor road bridges, from or within 200 feet of a public raft or float designated for water sports, or within the limits of locations designated as swimming beaches, surfing areas, or public boat docks, except in designated areas.
  • Introducing wildlife, fish or plants, including their reproductive bodies, into a park area ecosystem. This includes the discarding and/or dumping of bait and bait buckets.
  • The use or possession of fish, wildlife or plants for ceremonial or religious purposes, except where specifically authorized by Federal statutory law, or treaty rights.

Great Sand Dunes Fish Consumption Advisories

There are no fish consumption advisories for Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve.

To learn more about this topic, the National Park Service maintains information about Fish Consumption Advisories and Mercury and Toxins in Nature.

Aquatic Invasive Species

Imagine your favorite fishing spot and the wonderful memories. Things may look fine but underneath the surface there is a serious threat. Everything you remembered is now cemented together in a sharp, smelly mess. Invaders have wiped out the fish species you used to catch. Aquatic invasive species are not native to an ecosystem. Their introduction causes, or is likely to cause, harm to the economy, the environment, or to human health. Aquatic invasive species are a growing risk to parks and their values. In the United States alone, there are more than 250 non-native aquatic species. For many centuries, humans have contributed to spreading non-native species around the globe. You can make a difference. To learn more about Aquatic Invasive Species in the National Park Service, visit the Fish & Fishing website.

How You Can Help – Stop Aquatic Hitchhikers

Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve resource managers suggest that waders and other equipment used in other waters be cleaned and decontaminated prior to use at Great Sand Dunes to protect our waters from aquatic invasive species.

Fishing Throughout the National Park Service


We invite you to visit the Fish and Fishing website for more information about fish and fishing in the National Park Service. You will learn about conservation, different fish species, and parks that offer fishing.

Last updated: September 3, 2021

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Contact Info

Mailing Address:

Visitor Center
11999 State Highway 150

Mosca , CO 81146

Phone:

719 378-6395
Great Sand Dunes Visitor Center main number

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