Cold, clear water pushed against my waders as I eased to the edge of the river. The distinct gurgling sound of the moving river filled the chilled air as I looked deep into the slow run looking for any willing, plump participant to unhinge its winter-tight jaw. Winter seemed colder than usual this year, but the recent handful of warm days made me want to string my fly rod up and be streamside. It was early March and the signs of Old Man Winter’s rage were still hanging on.
As the sun crept higher, the water temperature ticked up; when the local residents are eager to shake off winter’s grip, it only takes a few degrees to get them moving. A couple of large rainbows that were once hidden were now suspended in the deep run, feeding on some mid-day midges. Tying a pair of imitations on I eased below the fish and placed a roll cast a few yards in front of them. With each perfect cast I anxiously watched my strike indicator float over the pair. Before the indicator could pause, I saw the flair of his mouth and knew one had been fooled. With a firm downstream swing, I set the hook and the scream of my drag told the rest of the story. For several minutes the flex in my 5-weight fly rod played this 20-inch hog. After several drag-ripping runs, my tippet could only take so much and stretched to its limit with the next hard tug. Even though I was disappointed, it was a great encounter and an outstanding way to start a new western trout season.
Rocky Mountain trout anglers are a lucky bunch. Although other regions in the Lower 48 have some epic trout waters, none can compare to the Rocky Mountain West. With countless river miles and reservoirs filled with pot-belly trout, it’s hard to go wrong no matter what western destination you choose to wet a line in.
Needless to say, with so many fishable waters it would be impossible to cover each one of them, but here is a look at what you can expect this season.
According to Greg Gerlick, Colorado Division of Wildlife trout czar, over the past decade license sales have seen a significant increase. With the current fishing opportunities and conditions across the state, he sees this trend continuing. In fact, he feels the high degree of satisfaction anglers expressed last year will only bring those smiling faces streamside again this season, thanks good water levels.
You really can’t go wrong wherever you choose to wet a line in Colorado this season. However, here are a few you might want to put on your short list.
The famous South Platte River system offers both still water and river fishing. Antero, Spinney, and Eleven Mile reservoirs are superb still water options. While many locals consider the 2,500 Gold Medal surface acres of Spinney to be the best of this trio, Antero and Eleven Mile also offer numerous trout opportunities.
The tailwaters below Spinney and Cheesman reservoirs are also in excellent shape and offer prime Gold Medal waters that boast excellent numbers of 18- to 22-inch browns, ‘bows and cutts. The tailwater below Eleven Mile is also in prime condition and offers an average of 3,000 trout per river mile for visiting anglers.
The southwest offers many stellar trout haunts to sample, however, the Animas River just might be its crown jewel. It’s filled with 12- to 14-inch trout, with some heavyweights living in the 7 mile stretch that flows through the town of Durango.
Another prime stretch of river to explore this season is the Yampa. This northwest Colorado gem provides two distinct sections for public water anglers: the 6/10 of a mile stretch below Stagecoach Reservoir and the several miles that flow through Steamboat Springs. In recent years trout numbers have grown here, with 16 to 18 swimmers being the norm.
Where do you start with Montana’s legendary trout? Whether you are seeking to do battle with trophy-sized wild trout in its many wide floating rivers or experience the solitude of the countless high mountain lakes, Montana provides a trout-fishing experience like no other.
Don Skaar is a fish manager section supervisor for the Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks Service and, according to Skaar, anglers should start the season equally as well as they ended it. There’s no shortage of water or feeding fish, and he suspects many hearts and tippets will be broken this season.
One of the many places you’ll hear snapped tippets is the Big Hole River. It offers 153 miles of free-flowing fishable water and is one of the most popular destinations in Big Sky Country. Don’t let that stop you because it’s full of brown and rainbow trout, and the Upper Big Hole contains the last stream-dwelling population of Arctic grayling in the Lower 48.
The Missouri River is the largest river in the United States, spanning some 2,500 miles, but it’s the 30-mile stretch below Holder Dam you should concentrate on. Trout numbers are solid here and the fish are willing to put a bend in your rod.
The Blackfoot River is one of 12 Blue Ribbon waterways found in Montana, and it offers exceptional trout opportunities for both the wading and floating angler. It offers brook, brown and bull trout, as well as large rainbows that are eager to please.
Located in southwestern Montana, the Beaverhead should be your choice if you’re looking for a heavy dose of large trout, especially big browns. Brown trout average nearly 18 inches while the rainbows also weigh in at an impressive size. Twenty-plus-inch fish are not uncommon for this tailwater.
You can’t have a Montana trout forecast without mentioning its most famous river — the Yellowstone. Trout fishing on the Yellowstone is excellent. Cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout are all found in abundant numbers in the upper half of the river.
Not only is the Gem State known for its ruggedly beautiful, panoramic views but, from what I hear, the trout fishing isn’t too shabby, either. With nearly a dozen Blue Ribbon wild trout rivers, countless streams, over 1,500 alpine lakes and numerous reservoirs, an angler could get lost in all the Gem State has to offer.
Not only is Idaho home to some excellent trout fisheries, but it’s the only inland western state with ocean-run salmon and steelhead. When conditions are right, the hatchery part of these runs can provide excellent opportunities as well.
According to Dave Parrish, Idaho Fish & Game fishing program coordinator, anglers who visit these pristine waters usually come away with a smile and some trout for the skillet, as well. In fac
t, angler satisfaction has been very high for several years and he sees those toothy grins getting even bigger this season. "Idaho experienced good moisture in late spring and early summer last year, which allowed those holdover fish to grow and reproduce," says Parrish. "It should be an excellent fishing season this year," he continued. With that in mind, here are some can’t-miss and some often overlooked spots you need to hit this season.
The Boise River runs right through the center of Boise and is a tailwater fishery that provides angling opportunities for hefty trout to both residents and visitors alike. Sections of the river are managed with special regulations to ensure quality fishing for rainbows and browns that average around 13 inches.
The crystal clear waters of Silver Creek are one of the more popular destinations, if not one of the most visited spring creeks in the west. Although many seasoned anglers feel early season is the best time to target its resident lunkers, you really can’t go wrong later, either. However, don’t forget your patience because it will be put to the test.
Big Wood River just might be your ace-in-the-hole if the Silver brings you to your knees. Its large populations of rainbows are often eager to please and will leave you coming back for more.
Lastly, a couple of often overlooked wet spots are the Malad and the Middle Fork of the Payette rivers. The Malad offers high-quality rainbow opportunities and the Payette offers both rainbows and redbands to fool.
The Cowboy State is internationally known for its many world-class trout streams and rivers, and every season tens of thousands of anglers come to sample its waters, many of whom travel halfway around the world to do so. Regardless of the type of water you prefer — lakes, rivers or streams — when fishing Wyoming you’ll have plenty of options, and there are few places left that can claim that.
Not only does Wyoming offer some excellent waterways to drift your best fly on, but it also offers a unique opportunity to fool four species of cutthroat trout. The Cutt-Slam program was started over a decade ago and it recognizes anglers who catch the four subspecies of cutthroat trout — the Bonneville, Colorado River, Yellowstone and Snake River cutthroat trout. It’s unique in that very few anglers will ever have an opportunity to catch these species in one state.
Jeff Obrecht, WGFD information officer, has been keeping track of the trout opportunities found in the Cowboy State for nearly 25 years and it’s his opinion that anglers are in for a treat this next season. With most rivers and streams having strong flows and many lakes filled to capacity, he predicts trout and trout anglers will have a banner season.
With the Teton Range hanging over your shoulder to the west, it’s hard to beat the opportunities found in the Jackson Hole Valley. With countless rivers and streams to choose from, it would be hard to go wrong, but the Greys, LaBarge, Snake and Hoback rivers are some you might want to check out.
Wyoming’s Green and New Fork rivers are also top spots that barely get a passing glance from anglers. Some of the west’s largest brown and rainbow trout swim in these waters as well as a growing population of eager native cutthroats.
The North Platte is always a prime spot when visiting the Casper area. Whether you prefer the freestone section that pours in from Colorado and offers stellar brown trout action or the tailwaters that boast some of the largest rainbows in the state, you’re sure to have some tippets snapped.
If there’s one state in this forecast that seems to take a backseat among traveling trout junkies, it would have to be the Beehive State, but it really shouldn’t. From high alpine lakes to trickling streams and everything in between, Utah offers many excellent trout fishing destinations that are only beginning to get the notoriety they deserve.
UDWR Sport Fishing Coordinator Roger Wilson has been keeping an eye on Utah’s trout watersheds for years, and insists Utah’s trout outlook appears great. Flows across much of the state were very good throughout the year, says Wilson, which should set the tone for what anglers can expect this season.
Although Utah fishing license sales have remained steady in recent years, anglers’ attitude towards the trout that swim there has changed. Current trends show that anglers are keeping less fish, but that’s not because they are bringing fewer to net. Quite the opposite is true. Catch rates have increased in many areas, but today’s anglers are looking to catch bigger fish. According to Wilson, "Utah anglers seem to want more regulation to support better quality fisheries." Although it seems much of the fly fishing west is trending in this direction, Wilson says anglers still need to take advantage of bag limits for this to occur. A river can only produce so much food; and if there are too many mouths to feed, then quality is hampered.
No sportswriter worth his salt can do a trout forecast without mentioning Utah’s Green River. It’s hard to believe, but you rarely catch a trout under 14 inches in the 30-mile stretch below Flaming Gorge Dam. With trout averaging in the neighborhood of 5,000 per river mile, it’s easy to see why it should be on your short list.
The Provo River just might be one of Utah’s busiest rivers as far as angler traffic goes, and with trout numbers soaring it’s easy to see why. Average trout size is around 12- to 14-inches on much of the river and the fish can be eager to please.
The Weber is another stretch of Blue Ribbon water that’s worth paying a visit. Wild browns, cutthroats and rainbows call the Weber home, so get ready to have your tippet snapped on some of its larger residents.
A southern gem that’s often overlooked by anglers is the East Fork Sevier River. This is another Blue Ribbon fishery that’s packed full of browns and rainbows that are more than wiling to put a bend in your rod.