A few years ago, I decided to go to Fountain Creek above Manitou Springs in search of bugs.
Many people who aren't avid trout anglers, or aquatic entomologists, don't know that the types of insects found in a body of water can be a great indicator of the health of a system. My goal on that excursion was to find as many different insects as possible and determine the health of the stream I used to fish as a kid.
After the Waldo Canyon fire of 2012 and the flooding of 2013, I went back this month to take another look. What I found was devastating.
My search began at the edge of town by the old bottling plant. At first glance, it's a breathtaking scene. Gravel and sediment line the bank and cover the stream bottom, fallen tree branches sit in piles as high as 10 feet from where the stream rests at normal flows, and a temporary wall has been built to direct water in case of another flood. The most depressing experience came when I put on my waders and walked from the bottling plant to Rainbow Falls, not finding a single trout. Before the floods, you would scare up a fish every 100 feet simply by walking along the bank. Of course, after seeing the water levels as high as they were during the floods, none of this should come as a surprise. But that doesn't make it any less sobering.
After a fruitless search for fish, I started looking for insects. I pulled out my seine and turned over some rocks. Two years ago, anyone could do a kick and find a myriad of insects that included baetis nymphs, midge larvae, annelids/worms, caddis larvae, stonefly nymphs, crane fly larvae and many others. All I could find this month were midge larvae and a few baetis nymphs. Every kick the results were the same - tons of midges mixed with one or two baetis.
In the name of science, I decided to check for bugs a few miles away in Bear Creek and found all of the insects typically present in Colorado's small trout streams. It was a night-and-day difference between the creeks and an unpleasant reminder of how bad the situation is at Fountain Creek.
The good news is there's hope. There were numerous midges and the presence of baetis suggests the possibility of an eventual return for those other insects, especially with our help. There were so many midges present that I would say Fountain Creek could sustain an anemic population of trout were it not for the lack of cover because of sediment.
Why should we care? Is it really that big of a deal if one small stream on the west side of town can't sustain fish? Of course it is. One of the indicators of the health of a city is the health and cleanliness of its water. The people in Colorado Springs might not have the power to stop disasters, but we have the power to rebuild and, in some situations, make things better than they were before disaster struck.
Wouldn't it be amazing if our grandkids 20 years from now could catch a trout from the same urban fisheries that we did as kids? To learn more about Fountain Creek and the Fountain Creek Restoration Project, visit restorefountain creek.org.
Kleis is a professional fly-fishing guide for Angler's Covey Fly Shop. Read his columns on the third Thursday of each month in Out There. To schedule your fly-fishing adventure, email firstname.lastname@example.org.