January 30, 2018
By D.H. Willis
JANUARY - Bear Lake Trout: Utah
The winter lake trout bite in Bear Lake. But fishermen also pick up cutthroat trout in abundance here. There is a bit of a smorgasbord of winter fishing. This high lake sprawls across 70,000 acres at more than a mile in elevation. When the ice sets it's a perfect place to go after these coldwater fish. Local promoters refer to Bear Lake as the Caribbean of the Rockies because of the turquoise-blue waters. The lake has one of those interesting unique species — the Bonneville cisco. This is the only place in the world that Bonneville ciscos are found. It's a member of the whitefish family.
Other Options: Meadowlark Lake Trout In Wyoming: Rainbows and browns are caught through the ice. The Bighorn Mountains pass to the east will likely close if snow gets deep. Henrys Lake Trout In Idaho: Big fish here. A 23.5-inch rainbow-cutthroat hybrid came from Henry's Lake in 2017.
FEBRUARY - Alamo Lake Largemouths: Arizona
This lake is bouncing back from lower water levels, and Arizona biologists are predicting improved fishing this year. Test nettings in 2016 turned up increasing numbers of young-of-the year fish and also 1-year-old largemouths. Bass up to 4 pounds were netted. And the smaller ones are growing. Anglers fish crankbaits and plastic lures that imitate the most common forage in the lake — threadfin shad and bluegills. However, when the fishing is good the bass are not picky.
Other Options: Keyhole Reservoir Walleye In Wyoming: Nice walleyes are caught either through the ice or in the first open water of the year. Lake Tahoe Rainbows In Nevada: Cave Rock and Sand Harbor parks provide public fishing on the Nevada side of the lake, if winter roads are open.
MARCH - San Juan River Trout in New Mexico
Famous and justifiably so, the San Juan has excellent trout fishing. The water flowing out of Navajo Dam maintains a fairly constant and cold temperature that keeps trout feisty and hungry nearly all the time. Anglers catch both rainbows and browns. Biologists' test nettings have turned up more than 15,000 trout per mile. As a tailwater fishery coursing through a dry southern Rocky Mountain environment it has good fishing the entire year.
Other Options: Ennis Lake Trout In Montana: Sight-fish and cast to cruising rainbows and browns. Especially good just after ice-out, which comes early in this eight-foot lake. Nesbitt Lake Largemouths In Nevada: Catch both largemouths and bluegills while float tubing the young spring cattail shoots in the Key Pittman WMA.
APRIL - Lake Mohave Largemouths: Nevada and Arizona
April brings on some of the best bass fishing in this big lake on the border of Nevada and Arizona. The good fishing extends on through June and the spring spawn. One of the wonderful things about this fishery is the beauty of it. The stark canyon walls are right out of an Old West movie, except with lots of water. The upper 20-miles lie within Black Canyon where releases from Hoover Dam maintain cool water temperatures. Farther downstream the lake warms. That's why it can maintain a wide range of species, from coolwater to warmwater.
Other Options: C.J. Strike Reservoir Crappie In Idaho: Crappie by the dozens, in a part of the continent not known for their abundance. Bighorn River Trout In Wyoming: magnificent river fishing for browns, cutthroats, rainbows, and whitefish in the Thermopolis area.
MAY - North Platte Rainbows: Wyoming
This fine river holds big rainbows as well as brown and cutthroat trout. Many top 16 inches. There are many different stretches of river across Wyoming. Near Casper it flows fast and rich through dry sagebrush country. A highway lies near much of the river, and there are many access pull-offs. Fishermen also float this river in drift boats. Many of the fish caught here tend to be of larger size.
Other Options: Utah Lake White Bass In Utah: White bass populations are on the upswing, biting jigs and spinners during the spring spawn. Navajo Lake Smallmouths In New Mexico: Biologists' nettings show Navajo with the highest number of smallmouths in the state.
JUNE - South Platte Trout: Colorado
The Cheesman Canyon has a wild adventuresome quality to it for anglers hiking in and casting to rainbow, brown, cutthroat and cutbow trout. Gill Trailhead is a good access point. The area is close to Denver so is heavily used. But the fishing is good, and the scenery is excellent. Top flies here include Cheesman Emergers, ants and hoppers during summer, San Juan Worms, midges for the picky fish, and some standard dries should trout be in the mood to come on top. Parts of this river are such classic trout waters that it would be fun to fish and roam no matter what the fishing success. But fortunately, the angling is top-notch. This is a classic Colorado favorite, and June is prime.
Other Options: Flaming Gorge Reservoir Kokanees In Utah: these are beautiful fish to catch. Trolling is one of the most common techniques. Kootenai River Whitefish In Montana: A state-record whitefish came from here below Libby Dam. Often best fished by boat.
JULY - Gallatin River Trout:Montana
This famous river of Western Lewis and Clark lore flows through magnificent parts of the American West, and much of it is extremely accessible along a road going toward Yellowstone National Park. The Gallatin can be fished all year and is especially noted for its exceptional dry fly fishing. It contains tremendous numbers of 12- to 14-inch rainbow and brown trout. And it's fun. Wading and stalking work well here. Guides recommend keeping on the move, and fishing new territory. Taking a look at fishing reports and conditions can be helpful.
Other Options: Kinnikinick Lake Trout In Arizona: In this lake near Flagstaff anglers catch nice trout, camp and gaze at San Francisco Peaks on the horizon. Denver's South Platte Carp In Colorado: Big unfished carp in Denver's South Platte River on warm days. A different world than upstream in the mountains.
AUGUST - Snake River Cutthroats: Wyoming
One of the most scenic fisheries in North America. The Snake flows along near Jackson, Wyo., and the Tetons. The water itself is almost too fantastic. It's quite accessible from the road in many areas. As a result, the river is loaded with rafters during much of the summer. But as autumn descends the rush of rubber rafts eases and the feeding activity of the Snake River Finespot Cutthroats pick up. There are 80 miles of Snake to fish between Jackson Lake Dam and the end of the canyon at Palisades Reservoir. About 35 miles of the river runs through Grand Teton National Park.
Other Options: Strawberry River Trout In Utah: This fishing is artificial lures and flies only, and other special regulations apply on the blue-ribbon portion of the Strawberry. Spinney Mountain Reservoir Trout In Colorado: Good shore and belly-boat fishing is available for rainbows, cuts and browns with snowy peaks in the background.
SEPTEMBER - Flathead River Trout: Montana
The Middle Fork of the Flathead is the one we're focusing on here, though the other forks are good, too. This is a magnificent floating river. Much of the fishing activity takes place on the run between Glacier National Park and Great Bear Wilderness. There are lots of cutthroats in here up to 16-inches, and of course some larger. It's also prime grizzly habitat, but it's not recommended to compete with the grizzlies for food, or anything else they want. The river itself is wild, but there is access from the road in quite a few places. The scenery and river environment is outstanding. The Middle Fork is one of the more popular raft floating rivers in Montana. The cutthroats tend to be not very finicky. Dry flies, streamers and nymphs all work to catch fish.
Other Options: Becker Lake Tiger Trout In Arizona: This is catch-and-release fishing in the White Mountains using lots of color in the flies. Sevier River, East Fork (Black Canyon) Browns In Utah: This is a productive brown trout fishery, with lots of stream rehab work under way.
OCTOBER - North Fork Coeur d'Alene River Cutthroats: Idaho
A lot of very good wading on this river lures trout fishermen to some excellent water. The North Fork of the Coeur d'Alene flows not far from Spokane, WA., but there is so much excellent trout fishing in this whole part of North America that fishermen can pretty easily find secluded locations. This river is noted for the good fishing for native West Slope cutthroats. Some measure more than 20 inches. Fishermen explore shorelines and riffles. Dry fly action is often good. The beautiful cutthroats here are protected in prime stretches by special regulations.
Other Options: Big Bend Trout In Colorado: A state recreation area makes a nice winter outing along the Arkansas River. Costilla Creek Rio Grande Cutthroats In New Mexico: Catch beautiful fish during late-season angling in northern New Mexico.
NOVEMBER - Lake Pueblo Walleye: Colorado
Lake Pueblo has state park facilities and is a top pick of dedicated walleye anglers who fish tournaments here. Lake Pueblo doesn't freeze every year, but flexible anglers can either catch fish through the ice, or open water. Either way, the bite is good. Angler reports show fishermen sometimes taking 20 to 40 walleyes on a trip. In a state more noted for its mountain trout fishing, Pueblo is a different world. The walleyes mixed in with smallmouths and what is considered some of the best largemouth fishing in the state make Pueblo a top pick.
Other Options: Elephant Butte Lake Crappie In New Mexico: Some of these run on the big side. This is also good blue catfish water. Apache Lake Smallmouth In Arizona: Smallmouths are feeding on crayfish amongst the rocks. Crawdad and chartreuse colors work.
DECEMBER - Lake Cascade Yellow Perch: Idaho
This lake has been one of the hotspots in North America for winter-time perch fishing for a few years. The Idaho perch record has been falling in Cascade periodically. And even now a new state record is swimming the lake. That is known, because biologists test nettings have turned up perch that are larger than the current state record. Charts indicate a gradual build-up in the larger size fish and year-classes. No one knows for certain when it will peak. But, these panfish run in cycles.
Other Options: Ute Lake Walleyes In New Mexico: Ute is considered an excellent walleye fishery and offers great winter angling opportunity. Lake Powell Striped Bass: Stripers at this lake, which straddles the border of Arizona and Utah, like spoons and flash that imitates the prey they feed on in this huge body of water.