Chuck Mack: A red horse wasn’t always a horse that was red — part 2
To get back to the red horses, these were a beautiful fish with a red stripe that went the full length of their bodies. When they were in their spawning cycle, this stripe would turn a really bright red, especially on the males. These fish weren’t what you would call a large fish. As I recall, one two feet long would be a big one.
Each spring, these fish would migrate up Wolf Creek to spawn. The creek would be alive with these fish; literally “thousands of fish!”
This was the time to stock up on fish. People would come from all over town, with their gunnysack seines, to gather fish. They hauled them off in washtubs. This went on day after day, as long as the spawn lasted.
This annual harvest of the red horse didn’t seem to hurt the population of the fish any, as each year there seemed to be more fish than the year before. That was, until “Red Horse Doom’s Day!”
What was the demise of the red horse? It was not the harvest, but a manmade problem. It wasn’t until the culvert under Highway 40 was replaced that the red horse had a problem. The replacing of the culvert was poorly planned. The new culvert was placed too high on the downstream side. The slow swimming red horse could not make it up into the culvert to continue its way upstream to the spawning ground. This was when the beautiful red horse sucker started to decline in the Yampa River.
I always felt close to the beautiful red horse suckers. This quite possibly could have contributed to the fact that they spawned almost in our back yard.
I don’t know whether there are any of the Red Horse Suckers left in the Yampa, at all, anymore. I know that it has been years since I have seen one. (Charlie Bugay and Tom Smith, both oldtime Harrisites, have since told me they fish the Yampa River a lot and it has been years since they have caught a red horse there. However, occasionally, they do catch one while fishing the Elk River, which is a tributary to the Yampa. Evidently there is still a small population in that river. Hopefully these will survive!) It is doubtful the red horse sucker will ever make a comeback in the Yampa. The Yampa River is now home to the notorious cannibalistic northern pike and even in this remote area, modern progress has caught up with us. The Yampa River is no longer a free flowing stream. It now has been dammed in a couple of spots and more dams are planned.
It is sad that we humans have a knack for destroying everything that is beautiful, but we always have had and I suppose we always will have. Even today, with all our environmental impact studies, etc., it seems we still make mistakes and in the animal, fish and bird population of the world, we have far too many “endangered species!”
Many former Mt. Harrisites have commented on this story and told me they remembered catching the red horse suckers in our back yard! Among them were the Gonzales’, Angelos, Sanchez’s, Bugays and nearly everyone else who lived in Mt. Harris at the time, and are still around today. They all agreed that they had carted off the red horse suckers by the washtub full. However, it seems I am the only one who could remember why the red horses quit coming up the creek.
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