February 17, 2011
Good fishing is available year-round in the Centennial State, if you know where to be and when.
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If you live in Colorado, consider yourself pretty lucky. And if you love to fish, consider this heaven. With over 300 days of sunshine a year, dozens of fish species, and literally hundreds of thousands of rivers, lakes, ponds, streams and reservoirs, there is always a fin that you can cast after, gig for, or float down to. Whether it's summer, winter, day or night, there are always places to go with your rod. Here is a yearly calendar of some good times just waiting to be had.
Rainbow TroutThere are few places that better embody the potential cruelty and simultaneous bliss of ice fishing for rainbow trout than the 3,400-acre pool outside of Hartsel that is Elevenmile Reservoir.
Cold temperatures and a propensity for blistering winds at Elevenmile can make ice fishing a daunting undertaking; nearly impossible at times if you don't have a fishing shelter. Furthermore, January fish can be picky. One hole can be producing monsters and another hole just a few feet away may not even generate a bite. But when the fishing is good, you don't want to be anywhere else. Most rainbows caught are larger than 14 inches, and there are a lot of fish going double digits on the scale. Gillnet captures in 2009 list rainbows at 62 percent of the fish population in Elevenmile so, bottom-line, there's a lot of potential.
Once you have drilled your hole, set your hooks up with Powerbait, worms, marshmallows or salmon eggs, and jig both at 5 feet below the ice and 5 feet above the reservoir's floor. As mentioned above, the rainbows are there but can be sluggish to respond, so be flexible in your presentation. Some guys do venture to the middle of the reservoir, but most folks hang out within 100 yards of the shoreline.
One prime destination for yellow perch is Aurora Reservoir, located in Aurora, just east of E-470 and Quincy. Once at Aurora, head to the marina cove, drill some holes and fish in the 5- to 10-foot range. Bait with small minnows, wax worms, shiners, or bits of nightcrawler. An ultralight ice fishing rod is recommended, as perch strikes are quick and light, and many fish can steal your bait if you don't set the hook immediately. These fish tend to school, so if you have multiple holes and baits in the water, watch your second rod if you get a strike on the first.
Colorado has a thriving population of walleye in many lakes around the state, with a clear favorite destination being Carter Lake, near Fort Collins. The Division of Wildlife has implemented a proactive approach to regulating this body of water, specifically designed to make walleye fishing pretty phenomenal. All walleye caught over 20 inches must be released, while a one-fish-per-day limit in the 16- to 20-inch slot can be kept. The result of these regulations has made the average size of walleye caught at Carter very photo-worthy, with many monsters in the 30-inch-plus division.
Gold and silver shiner presentations that mimic small prey fish work well, especially if they are used during dawn and dusk. The best success at hooking big walleye goes to those who stay on the water after the sun sets, and who fish by one of the three dams. Find rocky ledges and varying depth, and you'll find walleye at night.
Pike are considered a top-end predator whose only Colorado enemies are larger carnivores that stumble upon a shallow during their spawn, and man. Pike are also voracious feeders, and the DOW has placed an unlimited "bounty" on them (for most locations). Catch 'em, keep 'em, and eat 'em; that should be your pike-fishing slogan. And if you want pike action, then Spinney Mountain Reservoir is where you need to go.
You know that a pike population is doing well if the location has an annual pike tournament. Spinney Mountain is a Colorado gem, located about an hour west of Colorado Springs. Prime pike areas at Spinney include just off the dam to the south, and along the shoreline on the southern boundary leading up to the inlet at the NW corner. Donna Wahl, from the Spinney Mountain State Parks office, says that, "Buffalo Cove is a great place for pike, on the south side of the reservoir." This waterway is classified as a Gold Medal location, meaning only artificials are allowed.
Speaking of tackle, some modifications to your current box will have to be made if you're going after pike. With a mouth full of razor-sharp teeth, pike will tear through regular monofilament line. Wire traces or metal leaders are essential. Generally speaking, you want at least 12 inches of metal between your lure and the actual line.
While on the subject of lures, the spoon is a classic, but also stock up on some spinner and topwaters. Pike are ambush fish, so pulling in lures quickly seems to generate the predatory instinct. Having a decent-sized net helps get the fish out of the water quickly and a pair of long-handled pliers will help protect the fingers while retrieving lures and flies.
Surrounded by houses and subdivisions, Quincy Reservoir in Aurora, Colorado wouldn't ordinarily stand out as a quality fishing location for largemouths. But good management, lots of catch and release, and a relatively small size have made this reservoir a "must visit" for all bass fishermen. Fishing is good around the pumping station, as well as the weedy vegetation areas on the eastern boundary. Fishing with topwater works well, but the best strategy is plastic worms and crawfish drifted to the bottom and slowly jerked up.
The Colorado carp is probably the lowest of the low on the state's fishing totem pole. And, sadly, it is the most overlooked gamefish species. Regardless of their reputation as a gutter fish, these bone-filled, armor-plated fish are monsters at the end of a spinner, fly rod, or bowfishing line. If you're looking for a fish that will scream away the line from your reel, then look no further than the carp. Colorado has two introduced species: the common and the grass, and they can be found almost everywhere. If you want some sustained carp action, then Barr Lake, during the early part of June, is where you need to be.
Fishing for carp at Barr from shore means going either north or south of the lake's boat launch, and hitting the shallows. Look for moving reeds, dust clouds in the water, or a gaping mouth sucking at the surface. If you have a boat, there are several pockets of shallow lakebed (such as at the southern end near the buoy line), where the fish will also congregate to feed and spawn. Fishing b
aits and lures for carp are varied, with reports of homemade bread balls, nymph and cottonseed flies being at the top of the list. The best way to hook into Colorado bonefish is to get them just before or just after their spawn. Carp will feed aggressively in the shallow bottoms of lakes and streams, and also at the surface during and after plant seeding. If you're out with your bow, and your arrow finds its mark in the side of a carp, you just may never want to do anything else every again. "Barr Lake is a consistent producer of good numbers of carp," said Colorado Bowfishing Association's President Aaron Zadonick. "We hold tournaments there every year, and the fishing is great into July, when the weather gets too warm and the algae bloom turns the water to pea soup."
The tiger musky is a trophy fish, and a notorious difficult one to catch. Often called the fish of 10,000 casts, they are known for not responding to any lure or presentation. All Colorado populations of tigers are introduced fish, and one of the best places to go recently is Evergreen Lake, just west of the town of Evergreen. Evergreen Lake is small at just over 40 acres, but the tiger action is fairly consistent and very exciting. A good rule of thumb is to mirror the naturally occurring food sources in the body you are fishing, and at Evergreen Lake, that means lures that look like fingerling trout. Boat rentals are available, and good action often happens in the middle of the lake.
If you want to get into some cats, and are looking to have many opportunities to do so, then Prewitt Reservoir is the place to be.
Prewitt Reservoir is a warm water body sitting about 100 miles northeast of Denver, just off Highway 76. Since 2006, the Division of Wildlife has stocked over 100,000 catfish into Prewitt. If there are some survivors from the early stocking, they should now be about 5 years old and around 10 pounds. Nearly every year, the DOW gives out angler awards to people catching 30-inch-plus channel cats from Prewitt. Casting your bait near submerged debris or at the mouth of deeper inlets into Prewitt is a surefire way to target catfish. The shallow flats on the east and southern side of the reservoir are all good locations.
As far as tackle, rod & reel is the best, with dough balls, stink baits, and sucker meat all at the top of the list of offerings. Dawn and dust are the most active feeding times for catfish. If you hook a good cat, you're in for a good fight for a few minutes. Landing a cat is often the most difficult part. Underneath their barbel and smooth scaleless skin exterior, catfish hide excellent eating flesh (at least on the small, non-record-sized fish.) Watch yourself when grabbing them from the water though, as their dorsal fin conceals a sharp spine. There has been many an anxious fisherman who grabbed a cat and was left with a nasty and painful souvenir.
There is one place in Colorado that hides monster lake trout, and her name is Blue Mesa Reservoir.
Blue Mesa Reservoir is located just outside of Gunnison. The 9,000-acre reservoir is Colorado's largest and one of its deepest. The sheer volume of fish habitat allows for exceptional conditions for growing large lake trout. The lakers here can grow heavier than most family dogs, and have life spans five times longer than most 80s hair bands. For a fish with these numbers, you will need to use appropriate tackle. The best fishing for lake trout during September occurs in 30 to 80 feet of water (depending upon the water temperature). For these depths, you will need to incorporate a Dipsy Diver or some other downrigger on 20-pound test. For lures, try trolling spinners and spoons.
Brook Trout could be the quintessential Colorado fish. Most places that you can hike, camp, or go siteseeing in Colorado have a stream or lake nearby where brook trout make their home. Fishing techniques don't much change for brookies between the valley floor and above the tree-line. These fish are hungry and respond well to live bait, lures and flies matching hatches. In many high elevation lakes and streams, you can almost cast out an empty hook and still get a bite. A standout area is the Sangre de Cristo mountain range.
Whether you're hiking the Rainbow Trail, or just going 4-wheeling up Hermit Pass, nearly every mountain lake and valley stream holds some brookies. Almost everyone you see here carries a breakdown Ugly Stik and a few spinners. "We drive up just about any access road and look for beaver ponds or any deeper pools in the runoff streams," said Michael Long, a Denver resident who has been fishing the Sangres range for over 10 years. "Usually, we only pack some corn and condiments, because we know we'll fill the frying pan with brookies for dinner." This area caters to a multi-day trip, surrounded by great fishing and great views just outside of your tent wall. What more could you ask for? Try Hermit Lake, Rainbow Lakes, or Lake of the Clouds, located on the eastern side of the Sangres range, just west of the town of Westcliffe.
If you want salmon in Colorado, and you don't want to go to the grocery store, then you need to head to Blue Mesa Reservoir. Blue Mesa is Colorado's largest lake, and contains the largest population of introduced salmon in the state. While the best lure fishing for salmon is typically during the months of June and July, most anglers are not only looking for fish species variety, but also fishing style variety. November salmon at Blue Mesa means snagging.
Snagging involves using a large weighted treble hook, and simply casting it out and reeling it back in. This method is fairly successful, and the salmon are often congregated in large schools.
The DOW regulations specify that snagging Kokanee is permitted from the first of October to the end of December, but only on the lake side, east of the buoy line. The possession limit is 10, and keeping all fish snagged regardless of size of the fish is a good rule of thumb. Snagging is a fairly aggressive means of take, and many salmon snagged and returned to the water die.
While most of the state is blanketed with snow and most waterways are thick with ice in the month of December, there are still places where the hardiest of anglers can chase after browns in running water. The key is to find a stretch of river under a dam or a fast-moving river with continuous water flow. One such place is the Gold Medal stream section of the South Platte River under Cheesman Dam. "The Platte River around the city of Deckers fishes good 365 days a year," said Danny Brennan, owner of South Platte Outfitters. "Being a tailwater, it rarely freezes in winter in the Canyon or downstream for the following 6 or 7 miles." Thus, during the late winter and full spring seasons, this section of the Platte has basically continual ice-off conditions. Hungry fish, and good access to a nearly fully ice-free river, makes this area a hot location in the cold winter.
To fish the cold conditions, don't worry about trying to match a hatch. Use slower presentations, such as small midges or plastic worms. Stone and P-tail nymphs are also good producers. The hike in and out of the canyon to the Cheesman D
am will warm you up; just pack the 5mm waders and the wool gloves for when you finally get to the water. A bonus to December brown trout fishing is the very light angling pressure, as most guys and gals aren't crazy enough to grab their waders when the mercury goes down into single digits.
Well there is it folks, a full year of fishing in Colorado. Three hundred and sixty-five days full of lures, flies, spinners, gigs, spoons, nymphs, and tall fishing tales just waiting to be told. It's safe to say that the Colorado angler can never say, "I've got nothing to do today."