The Rockies are the envy of the fishing world when it comes to first-rate sport enjoyed amidst some of the most magnificent scenery on earth.
The Rocky Mountains are famous for the trout fisheries here, of course. And lots of anglers travel the planet to end here pursuing these glamour fish. But other species can be caught, including walleyes, catfish, stripers and largemouth bass. And some of that less-famous fishing can be done in near-seclusion, if that is one’s desire. This roundup features it all. From the world-renowned, to the unknown of the Rocky Mountain fish world.
Cascade Lake Yellow Perch
Cascade Lake in Idaho has been a very hot spot for yellow perch the past two years. The state-record yellow perch record has been broken several times, and it might go down again this winter. The fishery is on the upswing and is very popular.
Historically, Cascade has been overpopulated with pikeminnows, which overwhelmed the perch population. And in the past, that imbalance ended up destroying a multi-million dollar ice-fishery. But tons of yellow perch were brought in by biologists, and the fish are apparently now able to keep the pikeminnows in check. A tremendous perch fishery has taken off in Cascade Lake.
Anglers use all kinds of baits and jigs to catch these rapidly-growing fish. And someone could, just maybe, pull in another state-record yellow perch this winter.
Other Options: Fish the Salt River
Chain in southern Arizona for largemouth bass. The fish make a great open water fishery here during a time of the winter when much of the rest of the Rockies are frozen over. Fish spinners and the usual bass lures.
Snake River Cutthroats
Eagle Nest Lake sits high in the mountains, 32 miles east of Taos, N.M. As such, it makes an ice-solid fishing lake during winter. Snake River cutthroats are stocked and are caught in abundance here. But other species are also readily taken during winter. The 2,200-acre lake is considered one of the finest lakes in New Mexico for trophy rainbow trout and kokanee salmon. The ice-fishing here usually begins in January.
By February it is in full swing. The surrounding mountains are loaded with elk, bear, mule deer, eagles and wild turkeys. So, the fishing experience takes in a lot the mountainous nature in New Mexico, as well.
Other Options: For a more unusual ice-fishing experiences in the Rockies, try for ling in the Laramie Plains lakes in Wyoming. These snaky-looking fish are considered horrid in appearance but to those who eat them ling is gourmet cuisine, indeed.
Salmon River Steelhead
The steelhead of Idaho’s Salmon River are so famous and so sought-after that anglers swarm here from out of state when a good run is on. March is usually a prime time. But anglers usually call to check the conditions and the state of the fishing before heading to Idaho.
When it’s hot, they pick up beautiful rainbow-colored fish, often with deep red overtones. It is true trophy fishing. And the fish and the big river water on the Salmon River give a feeling of wildness that is unlike most other fishing experiences. Thus, the popularity of it is addicting. Steelhead fishermen keep coming back for more.
Other Options: Pueblo Reservoir in southern Colorado has good rainbow trout fishing this time of year. And being in one of the warmer and drier portions of the state, things kick off here far earlier than in the Colorado trout waters at higher elevations.
North Platte River Trout
Much of this river flows near a highway, and there are public access areas along it. Fishermen generally float it, however. And the reward is long stretches of wild river abutting cliffs on one side, and big sage covered deer habitat on the other. In between that is a wonderful river offering huge trophy brown trout.
The April weather in Wyoming can be volatile, to say the least. The trout don’t care. Some grow to an arm’s length and are fully capable of breaking expensive fly rods to pieces. This is mostly streamer and nymph fishing. The Miracle Mile below Seminole Dam, and Gray Reef below Alcova are both famous. A bonus is the rainbow run, which usually takes off in April.
Other Options: In Flaming Gorge Utah a notable smallmouth fishery attracts a variety of bass addicts. The good fishing is just now getting under way, and the smallmouth angling in this Western setting makes an exceptional backdrop.
Pelican Lake Largemouths
One of the top fishing lakes in Utah, Pelican Lake is one of the first lakes to warm up to the point where the bass start feeding heavily. Once the water gets to a temperature for these warmwater fish to actively gorge themselves, anglers relish the excellent fishing.
There are bluegills in this lake, too, so bass feed on them. And anglers catch both species. Favorite lures for largemouths here include tube jigs and curly tails that resemble crawfish and other prey. This time of year the fishing picks up after about three warm days to get the water heated up. And eventually, topwater action takes off.
Other Options: May is an excellent time to hit the trout waters all around the Flagstaff, Ariz., area. Spring is kicking off, and so are the insect hatches that trout feed on. It is classic trout fishing in a nice mountain setting. Cutthroats, brookies and rainbows can be taken with flies throughout this ponderosa pine region.
Tiber Reservoir Walleye
Montana is justifiably renowned for the excellent mountain trout fishing. But out on the high plains that Lewis and Clark once traversed lie reservoirs loaded with walleye. And right now Tiber Reservoir 65 miles north of Great Falls has a walleye population that will cause even a trout fisherman to take notice.
Popular rigs here include the jig tipped with a minnow, the spinner and crawler harness, crankbait minnow imitations, and a floating jig head tipped with a nightcrawler. All of this is located fairly close to excellent trout waters, and as a result the walleye fishing pressure is light. Which is much to the delight of the walleye anglers who come here.
Other Options: Nice lake trout abound in Turquoise Lake just west of Leadville, Colo. And if the lakers don’t happen to be biting, then the browns, rainbows or cutthroats probably are. Also, this scenic area likely will have fewer anglers than some other parts of Colorado.
Utah Lake Channel Cats
This is one of the more unusual places in North America to catch channel catfish because when you wrap your hand around one of these whiskered warmwater fish and hoist it out of the water, the snowy peaks of the Rockies are in the background. And a scene like that is unheard of in the main lairs of the muddy water homes of these catfish to the east.
The channel cat has a forked tail, which is a good identifier of the species. They tend to like current, but do well in lakes with high water quality. Utah Lake is excellent for them. And in the land of trout, you will almost certainly be one of the few anglers going after this feisty fish. Anglers mostly use baits, minnows and worms, but every now and then one is taken on a lure while fishing for other species.
Other Options: Stripers in massive Lake Powell will bite this time of year. These fish grow larger than the white bass they resemble. Crayfish are one of the main foods, so as one might expect, lures resembling crayfish work well.
Dearborn River Trout
This is one of the many magnificent trout waters coursing through Montana, and one of the lesser fished. Starting in the Scapegoat Wilderness, it makes its way 60 miles through some of the finest trout waters in the Rockies. The Dearborn finally joins up with the Missouri near Craig, Mont.
By later summer the fly-fishing has gotten well under way, with anglers fishing stonefly, caddis and mayfly imitations. The upper stretch has fast action for small to mid-size rainbows and cutthroats. Part of it flows through wilderness where anyone can fish, on public land, with a path along the river. All of it is a wonderful fishing experience, making one of those days that Montana fishing is famous for.
Other Options: Starvation Reservoir in Utah, contrary to the lake name, is a place where rainbows get plenty of food. Some are now growing to trophy size after being stocked only four years. Fat and 22 inches long, they are ready for the catching.
Tongue River Trout
The Tongue River has the north fork and the south fork, and right now the North Fork is excellent fishing in the setting of the Bighorn Mountains of Wyoming. Trout are wild and they are hungry this time of year as the get in condition for winter. The only drawback is their skittishness if water levels are low.
Part of the North Fork of the Tongue flows through a rugged canyon where only avid anglers and wild critters venture. As such, it is a wild and wonderful fishing experience for those disinclined to laziness. This is well past the usual fishing enthusiast time of summer, so trout anglers on the Tongue have a great river usually all to themselves. All of it looks like the place where a character from a Zane Grey novel could walk out of the purple sage at any time.
Other Options: The hybrid splake are commonly taken from Navajo Lake in southern Utah. Some of these brook trout/lake trout crosses weigh in at more than 5 pounds.
Greys River Cutthroat
These are actually Snake River cutthroat in the Greys, but no matter because they are excellent in either place. This river flows south of Jackson, Wyo., with some of the best fishing in the Rockies. This is classic fly-fishing with a drift boat.
Even in October on warm afternoons there are still terrestrials floating down this river through the lair of these big trout. Floating hoppers are often explosive fly offerings. And as if all of that isn’t enough, the scenery is stunning, with reds and yellows of October emblazoning the shore of this superb float.
By this time of year, most sportsmen are cleaning their big game rifles in preparation for hunting. Fishing pressure drops. Those on the river are delighted.
Other Options: Horseshoe Reservoir in Colorado holds tiger muskie, which are guaranteed to drive a certain percentage of anglers nuts. These big fish are meat eaters, and here as elsewhere their bite is unpredictable.
Salt River Chain Walleyes
The November walleye fishing in Arizona can turn into a trophy hunt in the Salt River Chain of lakes. This is where some really big ones swim. Quite possibly more record-breaking walleyes are swimming here than anywhere in Arizona.
November is a good time to go after this coolwater fish. There is some shoreline fishing here, so these lakes are a good place for those who don’t use a boat. This is getting into the definite southern range where walleyes can live. Even so, the Salt River Chain has good enough walleye habitat for natural reproduction of these fish, and it a favorite area of knowledgeable walleye anglers.
Other Options: The Red River near Questa, N.M., is home to the less common cuttbows (rainbow/cutthroat hybrids). Some of them grow to 25 inches. The hike to the river reduces angler competition here, and all of it is Rocky Mountain beautiful.
Henrys Lake Hybrid Trout
This is one of the glamour fish of Idaho. The Henrys Lake hybrid is a cross between a Henrys Lake cutthroat trout and a rainbow trout. They are reputed to grow faster, larger and perhaps zestier than the run-of-the-mill trout. That may or may not be true, but it is known for absolute certainty that they put up a great fight on the end of a line. They inhabit Henrys Lake in great numbers. Some of these fish measure more than 30 inches and weigh 15 pounds.
About 200,000 of them are stocked each year in Henrys lake. Some of them at this very moment are awaiting an enticing morsel to cross their path, in which event they will try to devour it.
Other Options: Tailwater trout and walleye fishing is good, even in the cold a Wyoming winter. It’s open water for trout. And below Boysen Reservoir there are walleyes.