2008 Colorado Trout Forecast

Where will you fish for trout in 2008? Here's a roundup of can't-miss hotspots. (March 2008),

Photo by Brian K. Strickland

Cold, clear water pushed against my waders as I eased to the edge of the run. The gurgling sound of the moving river filled the chilled air as I surveyed the river and looked for any willing plump participant to unhinge its winter-tight jaw.

Winter seemed colder than usual, but a recent handful of warm days had made me want to be streamside. It was early March, and Old Man Winter was still holding on. The river had a thick layer of frozen snow skirting its edges, and the water was cold.

As the day pushed on, the sun began warming the water. Large rainbows that had hidden were now beginning to show themselves as they fed on some midday midges.

I tied a pair of No. 22 midge imitations with 7X tippet, eased below a small pod of feeding trout and placed a rollcast a few yards in front of them. With each cast, I anxiously watched my strike indicator float over the pod. Before the indicator could pause, I saw the flare of a trout's mouth and knew one had been fooled into inhaling my best imitation.

With a firm downstream swing, I set the hook. The scream of my drag told the rest of the story.

For several minutes, the flex in my 5-weight Sage fly rod played this 20-inch hog. After several drag-ripping runs, my 7X tippet could only take so much and with the next hard tug, it snapped and brought this fly-fishing junky to his knees. Even though I was disappointed, it was a great encounter and an outstanding way to start this year's Colorado trout season.

No question about it -- if your pastime is presenting delicate flies or cranking spinners and spoons, then it's an excellent time to be fishing within the borders of the Centennial State. With over 9,000 miles of moving water, nearly 2,000 lakes and a robust population of trout, you can see why anglers thronged to the banks this past year, trying to fool some of the slippery residents.

According to Greg Gerlick, Colorado Division of Wildlife trout czar, Colorado has seen a significant increase in license sales every year since 2002. And with the current fishing opportunities and conditions, he sees this trend continuing.

"Overall, surveys indicate there is a high degree of angler satisfaction throughout the state," said Gerlick.

The most recent survey also indicated that about 75 percent of Colorado's anglers target the abundant trout as their prime fish.

Of those anglers, about half are opportunists who want access to large numbers of trout. The other 50 percent prefer tippet-busting hogs.

"What's appealing to Colorado anglers," Gerlick said, "is not only the amount of fishable water and the different angling opportunities, but the overall angling success."

As a resident of Colorado, I've had opportunities to test these waters last season on my many sojourns --though not nearly enough. And I can say with no hesitation that I caught not only more fish, but a good number of tape-stretchers too. It was definitely a good year!

HOW'S IT LOOKING?

So, you ask, what's expected for this year? Well, if everything continues on its present course, Colorado anglers should be coming home this fishing season with some for the skillet as well as some snapped tippets.

This past season's big news was the abundance of water that much of the state received. Its benefits will flow into this fishing season as well.

According to Gerlick, this wealth of liquid will provide overall better trout recruitment, as well as produce a better year-class of fish, helping younger trout to survive better, thrive and grow. Gerlick anticipates angling to improve across the state.

With so many fishable rivers, streams and lakes, it would be impossible to cover each one of them. But here's a look at some of the famous waters, as well as some overlooked hotspots -- and what you can expect from them this fishing season.

FRONT RANGE

This season, the Front Range offers a plethora of rivers and lakes for anglers to sample. Sprinkled throughout this region is everything from tailrace trout to hog-filled lakes. And each offers its own character and ample supply of fish.

The Cache la Poudre River is one of the few remaining free-stoners in Colorado. It's located a few miles west of Fort Collins.

According to Ken Kehmeier, a CDOW aquatic biologist, the Poudre is doing really well and is on the upswing. The latest creel survey shows an estimated 1,900 trout per river mile. But more impressive is the sheer amount of biomass that the river is producing. It's right at 150 pounds per acre.

Another river close to the bustling Front Range is the Big Thompson. According to the CDOW, the Big T offers nearly 2,400 trout per river mile in the 10-mile catch-and-release stretch below Olympus Dam. About two-thirds of them are feisty rainbow trout.

Frank Praznik, owner and guide at St. Peter's Fly Shop, said the Thompson is doing really well. He said that wild trout average about 13 inches, and it's not uncommon to hook into seasoned trout of 16 to 18 inches.

The Blue River is another top spot, located an hour west of the Front Range near Silverthorne. Zeke Hersh of Blue River Anglers reports fishing has been really good on the Blue, and he sees no shortage of trout in the near future.

Several years ago, some 50,000 'bows were stocked in the river from Dillon to Green Mountain reservoirs, and 2,500 of them were 14-inchers. River improvement projects were also implemented, all in an effort to keep the Blue's Gold Medal standards. Now, 16- to 18-inch trout are the norm, said Hersh, and 5-pound brutes are common.

The famous South Platte River system offers both still-water and river fishing. If hefty trout make you smile, it just might be the best that Colorado has to offer. Antero, Spinney, and Eleven Mile reservoirs are superb still-water options, with Spinney offering 2,500 surface acres of Gold Medal nirvana. Antero Reservoir provides new fishing opportunities, and Eleven Mile offers big trout and tape-stretching pike as well.

Guide Kevin Egloff of South Platte Anglers said with the abundance of water, these lakes are in prime shape going into this fishing sea

son.

Spinney Mountain Reservoir always provides opportunities for big trout. Egloff said that on average, his clients bring to the net about 20 to 25 trout that average 18 to 20 inches.

Antero Reservoir was recently re-opened after being closed for several years because of the drought. Egloff reports that last year's fishing was excellent for some hogs, and they hooked some 'bows up to 10 pounds.

Although the "Antero frenzy" is expected to die some, he still expects success to continue this year.

The tailwaters below Spinney and Cheesman reservoirs are also in excellent shape and offer prime Gold Medal Water that boast excellent numbers of 18- to 22-inch browns, 'bows and cutts. It's not uncommon to hook several of them in a day's fishing.

The tailwater below Eleven Mile Reservoir is also in prime shape and offers visiting anglers an average of 3,000 trout per river mile.

The Arkansas River offers 125 miles of free-flowing fishable water. Rod Patch, owner of Arkanglers Fly Shop, said that overall, the Arkansas is in excellent shape: "It's one of the best brown trout fisheries in the Rocky Mountain region."

Trout density is high. They're averaging about 12 to 13 inches, and the browns are wild, hard-fighting fish. The most recent CDOW creel showed there are approximately 5,000 per mile swimming these waters.

THE SOUTHWEST

Although the southwest part of the state is often overlooked, it offers some true trout-fishing gems. The first is the scenic Conejos River.

According to CDOW Aquatic Biologist John Alves, the Conejos has a good supply of wild browns, especially in the fly-only section, and he expects anglers to do really well this year.

Alves is seeing bigger browns and more of them, so come prepared to catch some trout. The most recent surveys show about 1,500 trout per mile. Although this sampling is a few years old, it should still give you an idea of what the Conejos has to offer visitors this year.

Just a few miles to the north are the Gold Medal waters of the Rio Grande. Thomas Chacon of the Duranglers Fly Shop said it offers some of the best dry-fly action in Colorado. "If you like to throw big dries, then you need to fish this bug factory," he said.

In his experience, 14-inchers are the norm, but there are plenty of 18-inch studs. If water levels continue to increase, he expects another good bite on the Rio this year.

Just over Wolf Creek Pass to the west is the Animas River, which just might be the crown jewel of the southwest.

Chacon spends a lot of time here and said that on the whole, the river is in great shape and reported above-average flows this past season.

The river is filled with 12- to 14-inch trout. However, if anglers are looking for some of the big-headed variety, then the seven-mile stretch flowing through Durango is a good place to start. This is where some of the best river structure is located, and those 18-inch browns and 'bows love to swim there.

The latest CDOW creel survey shows nearly 150 trout per acre, with more than 30 of them being 14 inches or longer. With numbers like this, you can expect some good hookups on the Animas this year.

WEST-CENTRAL

Located near the town of Lake City, the Lake Fork of the Gunnison is surrounded by some notorious waters. And because of this, it often gets overlooked.

However, CDOW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch said the most recent sampling found nearly 100 pounds of trout per acre in its lower reaches, with more than 20 fish per acre that hit the 14-inch mark or better.

That's real close to Colorado's Gold Medal standards. The Lake Fork of the Gunnison is in good shape this year, said Brauch, and by looking at these numbers, it's obviously a can't-miss river this season.

Just north of the Lake Fork is its cousin the Lower Gunnison River. If trout numbers are any indication of a top-notch fishery, then this 26-mile stretch of river below Blue Mesa Reservoir is a must-see this year. The most recent sampling shows about 7,000 trout per mile, with 400 pounds of trout per acre.

"These are incredible numbers," said Dan Kowalski of the CDOW, "and we don't see that changing much in the near future."

About 90 percent of these trout are browns, but some big rainbows are also lurking there. The best time to hook into them is during the prolific June salmonfly hatch.

If you want an opportunity to fool a true-blue monster, then the Taylor River tailwater just west of Almont is as good as it gets. In the fly- or lure-only water below the dam, public access is short -- less than half a mile. But the browns, 'bows and cutts living there are thick and long.

Dragonfly Anglers guide Cameron Scott said that trout numbers have fallen a bit recently, but he insists that there are excellent numbers of 18- to 22-inch trout there, as well as some heavyweights at 10 pounds and up.

For its size, the tailwater is one of the most heavily fished stretches of river in Colorado. But it still produces some great fish, and Scott doesn't see that changing anytime soon.

The Roaring Fork Valley is home to the famed Roaring Fork River and the Frying Pan. If you want to retire in trout heaven, then this might be the spot.

These rivers offer freestone and tailrace fishing, as well as 42 miles of continuous Gold Medal water.

Art Rowell, shop manager of Frying Pan Anglers, said that last year's fishing in the Roaring Fork Valley was as good as it gets, and that there's an ample supply of trout heading into this season.

Trout on the Fork average about 13 inches, and 16- to 17-inchers are common. Though there's plenty of public access along the bank of the Fork, a float trip is your best bet. The Pan dumps into the Fork near Basalt. Because it's a tailwater, trout here are typically larger.

Browns and 'bows average about 16 inches, and 6- to 8-pound pigs are not uncommon.

You can't do a Colorado trout forecast without hitting the mighty Colorado River. According to Rowell, it has also been in prime shape, and he reports that every year, the Colorado gives up some 10-pounders. This is big-water fishing at its finest. With 'bows and browns averaging 12 to 14 inches throughout most of the river, you can't go wrong spending some time here this year.

NORTHWEST

The Yampa River reigns supreme in the northwest, and if you get a chance to visit, you'll see why. It provides two distinct sections for public-water anglers: the

6/10-mile stretch below Stagecoach Reservoir and the several miles that flow through Steamboat Springs.

The CDOW latest creel survey shows over 550 pounds of trout per acre below Stagecoach, with the average trout right at 2 pounds.

Given numbers like these, you can expect some excellent, hefty trout opportunities this year.

Trout are not in short supply as the river pours through Steamboat, said John Duty of Bucking Rainbow Outfitter. There are good numbers 16- to 18-inch trout in town, and 5-pounders often show themselves.

Just west of the Yampa is the Elk River. Though public opportunities are slim, it's worth a look if you're in the area. In its lower reaches, Duty says, 15-inch trout are common, with 10- to 12-inchers being the norm.

The Elk typically produces some excellent hatches and will be a great stop this season.

The North Platte River begins its journey in Colorado before spilling into Wyoming. Before it reaches the Cowboy State, however, it offers excellent trout fishing. John Bonder of North Park Anglers said browns are the norm as it flows through Northgate Canyon. You could expect to catch numerous 15- to 17-inchers, with 20-plus-inch kings a real possibility. Because it's out-of-the-way, it doesn't get the pressure other rivers do. So expect to have many hookups if you venture into the North Park region this year.

Delaney Butte Lakes are the last in this forecast, but they should be among the first you visit this year. These three lakes, simply named North, South and East, provide stellar opportunities to catch eye-popping browns, brooks, 'bows and Snake River cutts. To top it off, North Delaney has the Gold Medal stamp of approval.

Find more about Rocky Mountain fishing and hunting at

RMgameandfish.com

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