Colorado's Deep Blues
October 04, 2010
Most state-record trout come from lakes. Get familiar with the South Platte Chain and the Delaney Butte lakes for hog trout and incredible ice-off action. (Feb 2009)
Guide Griz Egloff and angler Todd Hall wrestle a big Antero Reservoir trout to the boat. Photo courtesy of South Platte Anglers.
When anglers dream of spending time along the banks of the Centennial State's countless waterways, the South Platte, Arkansas, Gunnison, Roaring Fork, Yampa and the Blue often come to mind.
For decades now, Colorado's moving waterways have long been at the top of most trout anglers' to-do list -- and for good reason. The hundreds of miles of rivers and streams flowing within its borders consistently spit out big trout, and lots of them.
But among its many rivers and streams are some epic trout waters that get a barely passing glance from visiting trout-river junkies. Here in Colorado's deep blue impoundments, many trout grow to double-digit proportions. In fact, all but one of Colorado's trout records have come from its lakes and reservoirs.
With some 1,800 of those lakes and reservoirs scattered across the state, where should an angler start?
Well, just about any one of these waters can hold hefty residents. But here's a handful that you should consider trying this spring, after winter loosens its icy grip.
Each one offers its own uniqueness, as well as an opportunity to catch quality trout.
Who knows? You might just find yourself holding the next trout record.
SOUTH PLATTE CHAIN
If you were just driving by it, you wouldn't think much would be going on in the Central Colorado region of South Park. Aside from cows poking around, a handful of pronghorn antelope and a few doublewides here and there, you'd assume this region hasn't much to offer. But here, between the Rampart and Sawatch mountain ranges, you'll find Antero, Spinney and Eleven Mile reservoirs.
These Central Colorado gems are chained together by the fertile and famed South Platte River. And just like the rivers that are home to lunker trout, these lakes also produce eye-popping hogs each year.
In fact, the state record rainbow trout once came from this region. And it's common for any of these reservoirs to spit out 5- to 8-pound trout regularly.
Antero Reservoir stretches across some 2,000 surface acres and offers anglers a bounty of willing trout.
Around 1996, the lake was drained for a dam reconstruction project.
Due to a prolonged drought, it did not re-open until 2007. When that day finally arrived, rod-toting anglers flocked to its shores. They reported doubled-over rods and double-digit-sized trout.
It was during this rebirth, so to speak, that angler Frank Stack pulled from Antero's depths the new state-record cuttbow that weighed 18 pounds, 8 ounces.
But all good things must come to an end. When winter's grip sealed off the reservoir to angling activity, Mother Nature was cruel.
A few months later, when the ice loosened, eager anglers arrived with high hopes that the fishing would be as good as it was before.
But the scene was eerie.
"It really was sick to see all of the white bellies floating after ice-off," said guide Kevin Egloff, of South Platte Anglers. "It almost looked like the lake had white caps on it, there were so many fish floating."
Reports from the Colorado Division of Wildlife indicated that nearly 50 percent of Antero's trout population had been lost, and all indications were that many of them were the older fish. Despite this, the CDOW took the situation by the fins, so to speak, and stocked over a million Snake River cutthroat and rainbows last year. Although the overall catch numbers of trout over 18 inches were down, don't let that keep you from planning a trip there this spring.
According to Egloff, anglers did very well last fall, despite the winterkill.
"We didn't catch near the numbers of large trout we did the previous year," Egloff said. "But our catch rates were high, and we hooked a lot of 13- to 14-inch trout."
The 10-inch stockers that the CDOW dumped in there last year seemed to grow about an inch every month or two. And by the time fall rolled around, the trout that he reported catching were averaging in the 16-inch range.
Because of this, Egloff feels that this spring, the fishing on Antero will be excellent. He suggested starting out after ice-off, in and around the deeper water near the dam. Once the water temperatures start to warm, look for the trout to start migrating to the north and east sides of the lake.
If you're looking to hook trout that will double over your rod and grind your drag, then a great place to start is Spinney Mountain Reservoir.
Known for its seemingly endless supply of 18-inch rainbows, Spinney is a trout factory that offers more than 2,500 surface acres for visiting anglers. To top it off, it's only one of three lakes in Colorado to have earned the CDOW Gold Medal stamp of approval. And that's significant, considering the lofty attributes it takes to claim such status.
When you spend a day sampling these waters, you'll see why anglers flock to its shores around mid-April, after ice-off. It's not uncommon for even the average angler to snap a few tippets in a single day at the fly-and lure-only reservoir.
Unlike its brother to the northwest, Spinney did not suffer from winterkill. Egloff indicated that Spinney produced some great trout opportunities last year, and he expects that to continue this spring as well.
"Last year, we spent somewhere in the neighborhood of 100 days there," said Egloff. "It was very common for us to have 20-fish-plus days."
The average rainbow is around 17 to 18 inches long, and solid 4- to 5-pounders are fooled regularly.
Egloff doesn't see that trend ending any time soon, and the latest CDOW creel surveys bear out what this veteran Spinney guide reported. Trout average about 17 to 18 inches according to the survey, with solid numbers of rainbows, Snake River cutthroats and cuttbows in the 5-pound range.
u get there, head to the northeast side of Spinney -- or North Bay, as the regulars refer to it.
Concentrate your efforts in 7 to 12 feet of water. Southern winds will warm the water first.
The area near the dam can also be good early.
Eleven Mile Reservoir, the largest of this South Platte chain, offers nearly 3,300 surface acres for visiting anglers to enjoy.
But unlike the special regulations that control both Antero and Spinney, Eleven Mile offers the best of both worlds -- a chance to use both artificial and live bait, as well as an opportunity to catch large trout.
Jim Collins, owner of 11 Mile General Store, said he knows of a 19-pound brown and a 15-pound rainbow that came from these waters. It's not uncommon for anglers to pull out trout in the 5- to 6-pound range.
Collins indicates that last year, trout fishing was very good for fish in the 14- to 17-inch range, for shore- and boat anglers alike. If the past autumn was any indication of what's to come, he predicts that this spring, anglers will be all smiles.
"We had excellent reports from anglers catching good numbers of rainbows, browns and cutts last fall," he said. "We even had a few 8- to 9-pounders brought to our scales.
"With the good water levels we've had, I predict anglers will do great this spring."
Once the water temperatures at Antero Reservoir start to warm, look for the trout to start migrating to the north and east sides of the lake.
So where should you sample the trout Eleven Mile has to offer this spring? Just about any cove you try can produce good bites. But some of the top ones include the areas along County Road 92, located on the north side of the reservoir.
When you head to this South Platte chain this spring, it's a good idea to have an assortment of patterns that include olive, tan and orange scuds and streamers like black, purple and olive Woolly Buggers. These are a mainstay after ice-off when the residents start cruising the shallows.
You should prepare for a significant hatch of midges.
THE DELANEY BUTTE TRIO
Located just a few miles west of the town of Walden are the Delaney Butte Lakes -- North, South and East Delaney lakes. Unlike the South Platte chain, which offers more than 6,000 acres of prime access, the Delaney Butte Lakes collectively offer just over 400 surface acres.
But any one of these lakes is capable of spitting out 18- to 20-inch slabs, and one has even earned the elite Gold Medal stamp of approval.
Without question, North Delaney is the most popular of the three. It offers visiting anglers around 160 surface acres in which to cast their best imitation. When you make those casts, be sure to have a tight grip on your fly rod or you might just lose it.
It's filled with aggressive browns, and is literally a brown trout factory. Every fall, the CDOW collects eggs from its hefty population of browns and ultimately uses them throughout most of the state for its brown trout re-stocking program.
All browns from 14 to 20 inches must be released, and only two fish can be kept. Furthermore, only flies and lures can be used. Since you'll be releasing most of the fish, barbless hooks are strongly recommended.
This "Jewel of North Park" is loaded with browns up to 20 inches, with some stretching the tape to 24 inches. But don't just expect to hook sassy browns all day. Rainbows and cutthroats also swim in these waters.
"This is a big-fish fishery," said guide Jason Bodner, of North Park Anglers. "This is where we take our clients who want to catch browns and cuttbows in the 24- to 26-inch range."
With a quick look at some of the CDOW Master Angler program trout records, you'll find this to be true. Multiple cutthroats have been caught that were 22 inches and bigger.
Although all these lakes are a stone's throw from one another, their hatches can sometimes be localized. Shortly after ice-off, the first feeding frenzy is on a midge hatch, so have your box full of large dark No. 12-14 midge patterns.
Also, scuds can be extremely effective early in the season, as well as black and olive Woolly Buggers. Aggressive browns have a hard time passing up a well-presented bugger.
However, during the early season, expect to find trout cruising the shallows. Since the lake is relatively small, just find where they're thrashing and get your rod out.
Similar to their brother to the north, the South and East lakes also have the fly and lure restrictions. According to guide Bodner, it was shortly after those restrictions took effect that they started hooking quality trout.
Only two fish may be taken for your skillet. That has improved the quality and numbers of trout that anglers are catching.
East Lake is the smallest of the three, offering only 80 surface acres. South Lake is more than twice that size, at just over 160 acres. Though the North Lake gets most of the attention from rod-toting visitors, it shouldn't when you consider the trout opportunities found in these two "lesser" bodies of water.
"No doubt the North Lake produces more big fish," said Bodner. "But if you want to catch lots of trout in the 15-inch range and even up to 18 inches, you should go to the South and East lakes."
Rainbows and cutthroats can also grow to the 20-plus-inch range.
When heading to either the East or South lakes, look for scuds to provide the best bite after ice-off. Callibaetis and damselfly will be the next in line, so have a good selection of No. 8-14 Swimming Damsels, Flashback Damsels and Damsel Nymphs. Olive Callibaetis nymphs, as well as Hare's Ear, Pheasant Tails and RS2 in size 12-16 can also fool them.