Arkansas River Water Quality & Gold Medal Fishing


This is the inspirational story of a losing battle, where the underdog  fights back to win.  In sports, nothing is more inspirational than such stories.  Just like the 1980 “Miracle On Ice” triumph where the U.S. Olympic hockey team defeated the heavily favored Russian team, such stories give us hope and the idea that even with insurmountable odds, amazing things can happen through the unbreakable spirit of those who believe in a successful outcome.




In a less publicized battle, the Upper Arkansas River of Colorado has also recently achieved a very significant victory.  By the late 1900’s, After decades of mining and agricultural contaminants drained into the Upper Arkansas River, the water quality had declined and had a negative impact on the health of the river and its beautiful native trout population.  Fortunately, A number of federal agencies, including NRCS, the EPA, Department of Interiors’ Fish & Wildlife Division, Bureau of Forestry and Bureau of Reclamation, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Geological Survey, cooperated to clean up the area mostly using funds paid by the polluting mining companies. To date, the cooperating agencies have plugged up the leaks from the old mines, removed the pollutants from the river, and replaced contaminated soil along its banks with clean soil.  In the past 20-25 years, the river has responded and has made an amazing comeback.


Today, in the age of commonly losing the natural beauty and healthy ecology of many of America’s most pristine rivers, it is incredible to see the Arkansas River bounce back.  All too often, we realize the negative impacts of dams, pollution, and lack of water due to growing populations and increased water consumption, too late to be able to turn around these destructive impacts.  However, The Arkansas River has bounced back fairly quickly.

One major indicator of this high mountain river’s improving water quality is the return of a healthy trout population.

In January of 2014, Colorado Parks and Wildlife added 102 miles of the Upper Arkansas River to the state’s 220 miles of rivers and streams that already have been bestowed with Colorado’s highest honor recognizing great fish populations – Gold Medal Fishing.  With the addition of the Upper Arkansas River,  Colorado added over 30 % more Gold Medal Fishing to the delight of anglers seeking that special experience of fishing for trout thriving in their native habitat.




Gold Medal Status

In order to receive Gold Medal status, a body of water must consistently support a minimum trout standing stock of 60 pounds per acre, as well as consistently support a minimum average of 12 quality trout — trout larger than 14 inches — per acre. The Arkansas smashed those requirements with an average of 170.3 pounds per acre, and 75 trout larger than 14 inches-per acre.

Nowadays, we don’t expect to be able to reclaim a polluted natural resource quickly, or at all.  However, the Upper Arkansas River is a tribute to the dedication and collaboration of many people, government agencies, and conservation groups who, against all odds, worked tirelessly to improve the ecology of this beautiful river.

 The Upper Arkansas River Basin drains an area of 24,904 square miles of southeastern Colorado.  It is the 6th longest river in the United States at 1,469 miles long from its high alpine headwaters just north of Leadville, Colorado to where it dumps into the Mississippi River at the eastern edge of Arkansas.  While this river is muddy and polluted along most of its cross country journey, at least its headwaters in Colorado have returned to a healthy ecology.  Of course, the approximately 300,000 people who annually enjoy whitewater boating don’t mind the improved water quality either, adding to their enjoyment.

Between improved water quality, great scenery, and great whitewater, the Arkansas River is typically the most popular river for whitewater rafting in the U.S.

Celebrate this underdog’s amazing comeback with a trip to the Arkansas River in Colorado to enjoy fishing, rafting, kayaking, camping, or just reading a book to the soothing sound of the water.


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Buena Vista, CO
12:47 pm, May 16, 2022
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Breckenridge, CO
12:46 pm, May 16, 2022
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