Great fishing in tremendous variety awaits Rocky Mountain anglers in 2017. There are prestigious trout bending fly rods, savage bass upending baitfish schools and repulsively ugly but amazingly tasty burbot flopping toward skillets.
The broad sweep of angling opportunity and natural beauty in the Rockies lies unsurpassed anywhere in the world.
JANUARY – Pathfinder Walleyes in Wyoming
Frozen into the middle of Wyoming sits one of the top recommendations to anglers — Pathfinder Reservoir. Walleyes abound.
Some fish come through the ice in the 18- to 24-inch range. And walleyes are active, being coolwater fish that continue eating and ranging the lake, even in the dead of winter.
“They are abundant right now,” noted Mark Smith, Wyoming Game and Fish Department assistant fisheries coordinator.
The good walleye populations here stem from good water quality and good natural reproduction. But some of their size is coming from their high protein diet — rather daft hatchery trout being stocked in the lake. Smith said large rainbows are being stocked to give them a better chance to survive the hungry maws of the growing walleyes.
If you miss the winter bit on the ice, another excellent time is June through mid-August when fish are found 20- to 40-foot deep.
This winter you should mostly have the walleye fishing to yourself. Smith said few Wyoming fishermen have figured out he walleye game, so far.
Other Options: Lake Cascade yellow perch in Idaho continue to set state records, with the latest last winter coming in at 2 pounds, 15.36 ounces. Eagle Nest Lake in New Mexico has perch, rainbow trout and northern pike.
FEBRUARY – Saguaro Largemouths in Arizona
During the Rocky Mountain deep freeze to the north, anglers down here in Arizona go after huge largemouths (and smallmouths) in Saguaro Lake. The lake has a history of producing lunker largemouths. In fact, anglers have been catching bass up to 15 pounds.
Drop-shots and Texas rigs are favorites. Other good picks include spinners and topwater baits when bass are in a mood to pursue their prey, which is often.
Other Options: One of ugliest fish to swim freshwater — burbot — is also one of the tastiest in Wyoming’s Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Northern pike are unusual in Nevada, but in Bassett Lake anglers catch them on flashy Daredevils, Rapalas, spoons and spinners
MARCH – Smallies in Arizona’s Lake Havasu
There are times in early spring when smallmouth bass fishing gets very hot in Lake Havasu. The state record came out of the lake in 2011. Lots of artificial fish habitat has been dropped into the depths. In spring the smallmouths fish tend to be a little shallower. The rest of they year they’re deep. It’s recommended that anglers just starting out on Havasu talk to a few knowledgeable fishermen or tackle shops to get a heads-up. Otherwise the lake can be intimidating. Rocky points, shorelines and canyons are all excellent locations to pursue Havasu smallmouths, especially in spring. And there is good redear sunfish action in Havasu, with one IGFA- record specimen nearing 6 pounds.
Other Options: White crappies are caught in Echo Canyon Reservoir in Nevada. Adobe Creek Reservoir and its warmwater crappies and catfish are relatively untapped north of Animas, Colo.
APRIL – Yellowstone River Montana Trout
The pre-runoff bite is exciting and anticipated in early spring. It’s a great floating river, said Mike Pogoda, manager of The River’s Edge Fly Shop in Bozeman, Mont.
Anglers catch brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout, along with excellent whitefish, out of one of the most celebrated waters in the American West. During April the crowds are lighter, and it is mostly the serious anglers who go after these fish. There are good hatches even in early spring as the weather warms and trout feed. Pogoda recommends Caddis, Pale Morning Dun (PMD) and mayflies. Hook sizes range from 22 for midges and even Blue-Winged Olives, to size 2 streamers if big trout are looking to eat meaty prey fish or the water is murky. As the season progresses and the run-off commences, anglers will fish darker streamers along he bank. That’s where trout lurk in search of food, and it’s also where the water tends to clear soonest.
Other Options: C.J. Strike Reservoir in Idaho continues to have good smallmouth fishing. Hobart Reservoir in Nevada has a self-sustaining brook trout fishery.
MAY – Blue Cats in Elephant Butte Lake in New Mexico
Blue cats grow big. To catch one of the giants, anglers dip lines into appropriately named Elephant Butte Reservoir. The state record hails from Elephant Butte — at over 52 pounds. Good snowpack and rains should boost this lake, where anglers can also catch channel cats, largemouth bass, white bass and walleyes, said Eric Frey, head of New Mexico’s sport fishing program. But it is the potential huge blue catfish that entices some. Being of such body size, big bluecats don’t mess around with grasshoppers or other puny protein sources. They are meat-eaters, so go after them with other fish as bait. Or, you can try big messes of stinkbaits or other homemade concoctions.
Other Options: Pikes Peak North Slope Reservoirs in Colorado are handy for rainbow, cutthroat and the occasional brook trout. Good fishing for many 14- to 18-inch cutthroat and brown trout in the Salt River of Wyoming.
JUNE – Whitefish in Weber River in Utah
The Weber is one of the most productive trout rivers in the Rocky Mountains, but it’s also home to good mountain whitefish angling.
Whitefish are overlooked in the Weber River but can be caught in good numbers.
“They are pretty large whitefish in there that can be a blast,” said Richard Lake, with Fishwest in Sandy, Utah. “They can be 25 to 26 and pushing 30 inches. For whatever reason, a lot of anglers around here frown down on it. But they put up a great fight.”
Good flies for the Weber include Midges, Caddis, PMDs, scuds and sowbugs.
Other Options: Navajo Lake in Colorado and extending into New Mexico is on the upswing for smallmouth bass. Green River trout are biting in Wyoming.
JULY – Trout in Colorado’s Fryingpan
The Fryingpan River is one of the best-known trout waters in Colorado and is noted for trophy fish. Anglers tie into rainbows weighing more than 10 pounds. Good fishing high up is found from Basalt to Aspen and many other stretches. The spillway at Ruedi Reservoir Dam is a favorite. There, the fast water forces insects to the bottom of the river where big, hungry trout engorge lots of high protein food and turn into over-sized lunkers. Most often caught are rainbows and whitefish.
The Fryingpan offers some of the most spectacular areas of the Rockies, and the entire river is one of the favorites of experienced Colorado fly-fishermen.
Other Options: The South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho offers good trout angling and famed mountain scenery. Trappers Lake in Colorado has a traditional trout fishery in a mountain atmosphere.
AUGUST – Trout in Nevada’s Truckee River
The Truckee flows from Lake Tahoe on a trout-laden journey of 110 miles to Pyramid Lake. About 40 miles of it from the California state line to the Pyramid Lake Indian Reservation is managed by the Nevada Department of Wildlife. Ten-inch rainbows are stocked. And there are also catches of brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout . The talented fly-fishermen can even entice carp on the Truckee. Some of the best fishing occurs when flows are between 300 and 400 cfs. The Truckee River is “navigable water” in Nevada. That means the state of Nevada owns the river bed up to the “present ordinary permanent high water mark.” And that public bed can be used by anglers. The best fly patterns include Caddis, PMDs, Midges, Stoneflies, BWOs, Sculpin and crayfish imitations.
Other Options: Fish for 20-pound carp in Montana’s Tiber Reservoir. Large rainbow trout over 20-inches, bull trout and whitefish bite right now in the South Fork of the Boise River in Idaho.
SEPTEMBER – Clark Fork Trout in Montana
Fall fishing is excellent in the trout rivers of eastern Montana. One of the most unique is set in the same place as “A River Runs Through It” movie, in and around Missoula. Here you can float many stretches, or even ride along one of Missoula’s riverside bike paths to get to good fishing in what is arguably the best fishing river going through any town or city in North America. Anglers catch lots of rainbows and browns. The weather is starting to cool. All wildlife is storing up fat for the winter. Good Blue-Wing Olive hatches unfold. Just a short ways away runs other great trout waters — the Bitterroot and the Big Blackfoot. All of it is classic trout water, and so beautiful that many people who don’t even fish float it, just for the fun and the scenery.
Other Options: Fall steelhead fishing gets under way in earnest in the Salmon River in Idaho. Worth fishing for the name alone, Starvation Reservoir in Utah has big walleyes and enough crayfish for a crawdad festival.
OCTOBER – Bighorn River Trout in Wyoming
Great trout fishing is relatively local in the wonderful Wyoming portion of the Bighorn River. The Bighorn is famous in Montana. Not nearly so much so in Wyoming, where the fishing in the river is every bit as good, noted Mark Smith, assistant fisheries management coordinator with the WGFD. That’s partly because the Wyoming part of the Bighorn is a long way from anywhere, making it more difficult to get to. But that is also a draw for the avid trout angler. Browns and rainbows in the 14- to 20-inch range are common. Rod-breakers are always a real possibility. Much of the Bighorn in Wyoming passes through private land, but there is good public access. Fishermen do well with the San Juan Worm and scuds.
Other Options: Walleyes in New Mexico’s Ute Lake have been increasing steadily since 2010. Wonderful autumn wildlife and trout flourish in Yellowstone National park in Wyoming.
NOVEMBER – Colorado River Trout in Colorado
The Colorado headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park can be high and cold this late in the year. Downstream anglers fish the late fall waters very successfully. The lower Colorado is noted for trophy fish. As always in the Rockies, the days vary greatly from sunny shirtsleeve weather, to blizzard. November is streamer season, and big browns bite big patterns. And on warmer days there are dry fly hatches of Blue-winged Olives and Midges. Tailwaters in the Blue River and Williams Fork are trip-savers when water conditions are questionable elsewhere. Good public access places for walking and wading are located near Radium, Rancho del Rio and State Bridge.
Other Options: Lake Powell has legendary autumn striper fishing in Arizona. Good wintertime crappie fishing begins in 25 to 40 feet of water in Lake Mohave in Nevada.
DECEMBER – Smallmouth Bass in Brownlee Reservoir in Idaho
Brownlee smallmouth fishing is consistently good, and not just in December. It’s usually open water all year. Fishing tournaments here are turning up lots of 3-pound smallmouths. They are feeding on a resurgent yellow perch population, said Jeff Dillon, Idaho state fish manager. Look for gravel bar areas and rocky outcroppings. Smallmouths here are usually found in less than 20 feet of water, with larger fish tend to be found deeper. Cast plugs, plastic grubs and worms, or lead-headed jigs.
Anglers in this part of the Rockies are more keyed in on trout, so the fishing pressure can be relatively light on smallmouths.
Other Options: Twin Buttes Reservoir near Laramie, Wyo., has rainbow trout ice-fishing. Ice-fish for trout in Salmon Lake, Holland Lake and Placid Lake in the Swan Valley of northwest Montana.