Have you fished all of Colorado's great trout waters yet? No? Maybe 2010 is the year to do it! (March 2010)
As a Colorado angler, I'm frequently asked what makes the fishing so special and addictive here. My answer: The diversity.
Grafton Singer landed this impressive laker while fishing Blue Mesa during the early spring.
Photo courtesy of Grafton Singer.
One minute you can be sinking Berkley PowerBait to the bottom of a pristine lake, and in the next be drifting flies in a raging river. If these two choices aren't appealing, you could always seek out a few bubbling streams or head into the Rockies for some backcountry lake action.
The bottom line is you will never be without options when wetting a line in Colorado. You can use a wide array of techniques, and seek out everything from a vibrant 9-inch brookie to a hook-jawed 30-inch rainbow.
In years past, the outlook for Colorado has been positive, and anglers should expect to see another amazing year of trout fishing in 2010.
Greg Gerlick, chief of fisheries for the Colorado Division of Wildlife, pointed out that angler satisfaction rates are high, and there are plenty of fish to be had.
"Our surveys indicate that anglers are satisfied with the fisheries in the state, and trends show that we are getting more and more anglers out there every year," Gerlick said. "Plus with all the stocking and habitat improvements across the state, anglers can look forward to a very productive season."
The nation's sixth longest river, the Arkansas River, tumbles out of the Sawatch Range just a few miles northwest of Leadville. From here it carves a 148-mile path to Pueblo Reservoir, and in between is some of the most jaw-dropping trout fishing in the state.
According to CDOW aquatic biologist Greg Policky, the Arkansas has been a very consistent fishery for many years, and shows no signs of slowing down.
"From the Wellsville Station just below the town of Salida, numbers typically show 4,000 to 6,000 fish per linear mile," Policky said. "Our most recent count shows 5,700 per linear mile."
Numbers like this make the Arkansas a magnet for trout enthusiasts, and new programs and improvements launched by the CDOW are only making things better.
"We are about 85 percent browns on the river," said Policky. "But we are stocking 6-inch-long Hofer rainbows, and these fish have a high survival rate."
Rainbows on the river are on the rise, and below Salida they make up 15 percent of the population.
This is awesome news for anglers because rainbows grow quicker in the Ark simply because they better utilize the river's natural food sources.
"Most of the browns caught average around 11 inches, but we are seeing some rainbows over 20 inches making their way into fishermen's nets," Policky said.
The river is best known for its high catch rate, and after speaking with biologists and many anglers, they believe there is no better place to catch outstanding numbers of fish in the 11- to 14-inch range.
As far as where to go on the Arkansas, there is really no wrong choice. According to the CDOW, 65 percent of the river from Leadville to Canon City is open to the public. Signs mark these public tracts well. Anglers just need to pay attention to any special regulation signs in the area. Some stretches are limited to only flies and lures.
Both browns and rainbows are aggressive feeders, and the mild climate makes the river productive throughout the year.
Fly-fishing is without question the most popular and productive type of fishing. Microscopic Copper Johns, Pheasant Tails and RS2s provide great winter and early spring action.
Hot lures include: silver bladed Panther Martins, brown trout and rainbow Rapalas, gold Acme Kastmasters and Worden's Rooster Tails.
During the late spring and summer months, caddis hatches make it hard for anglers to inhale without gulping down a mouthful of these insects. Blue-winged olives are also prevalent along the river and are a popular choice of many anglers throughout the year.
In the late summer and early fall, the hopper-copper dropper combo is deadly on fish. Use a grasshopper imitation fly on top and a Copper John trailer.
Streamers also begin to produce well at this time, and turn red hot in the fall during the brown's annual spawn.
River fishing isn't the only attraction in the southeast. Many pristine lakes dot the region as well and offer fantastic fishing.
Drew Hunter, a regular and mackinaw master at Twin Lakes, said these beauties are a hot place to be in the early spring.
"As the water warms, the big lakers move up in the water column to better ambush prey, making big Rapalas and various colored tube jigs hot baits," Hunter said.
Policky said there are plenty of fish in the protective slot of 22-34 inches.
"Once the fish get into the slot they are safe, and really get a chance to take off," he said.
Lakers in Twin won't be as fat as those in Blue Mesa, simply because they don't have the food. But there are a lot of them and plenty of 40-inchers.
Just north of Twin Lakes is the lesser-known Mount Elbert Forebay. This 400-acre slice of heaven is an angler's dream.
It's one of the most scenic lakes in the state and offers some incredible trout action.
Colorado has plenty of trout hubs, but few of them rival the mountain town of Gunnison. The place is an angling paradise, and with fisheries like Blue Mesa Reservoir, Taylor Reservoirs and the Gunnison River just a stone's throw away -- it's definitely the place to be this spring.
Let's kick things off with Blue Mesa Reservoir and the legendary mackinaw that haunt its deep waters.
According to local mack guru Grafton Singer, there is no better place to be in the early spring.
"We had days last season when we boated several 30-inchers in
a single afternoon," Singer said. "Trolling monster plugs and jigging a sucker-tipped tube is very productive as the fish move into shallower water."
Other than an arsenal of baits, anglers will also want to have top end electronics. True monsters get on humps and benches.
Dan Brauch, the CDOW aquatic biologist for the area, pointed out that lakers are on the rise in Blue Mesa, which is both good and bad news.
"We are seeing a major decline in our kokanee population," Brauch said, "and this is due in part to the growing lake trout population."
On the flip side, laker numbers are up, and there is some natural reproduction.
"This year we are encouraging anglers to harvest plenty of small- and medium-sized lake trout," said Brauch.
The "Big Blue" is also a highly coveted trout lake. Rainbow survival has dropped drastically, but the CDOW has bright hopes for the future.
"We are moving from a sub-catchable rainbow stock to a catchable one," said Brauch.
This will help restore the rainbow population and allow anglers more opportunity, according to the CDOW. The lake also will receive a stocking boost this year of 850,000 rainbows and nearly 3.3 million kokanee.
"Basically, we are pumping in as many kokanee as we can," said Brauch.
Another hot lake in the region is Taylor Reservoir. This 2,400-acre mountain gem is teeming with lake trout, kokanee, browns, rainbows, cutthroats and monster pike.
After ice-off in late spring, many of the lake's monsters cruise the shallows in search of food. At this time of year, crayfish imitations and bright-colored lures earn more bites. This is also a great lake to put worms, PowerBait and sucker meat on the bottom.
Moving on to flowing water, we find the majestic Gunnison River. According to Brauch, data on the Gunny is collected in two regions: the upper Gunnison around Almont and the lower Gunnison near Blue Mesa. Though not officially designated, the upper reach exceeds Gold Medal standards, and will be a great place to be this spring.
Recent shocking surveys show 5,500 fish per linear mile, which averages out to be 190 pounds of fish per acre. Brauch also pointed out that the upper stretch boasts 24 fish more than 14 inches per acre. This is almost double the minimum requirement of Gold Medal waters.
The lower section of the Gunnison has 2,900 fish per linear mile, which is 105 pounds per acre.
As you can see, it's difficult to find a region in Colorado where the trout fishing isn't phenomenal, and here in the Front Range that trend continues.
If you're looking to catch lots of fish on a beautiful river, dip a line in the Big Thompson this spring. Much of the river is in the awe-inspiring Rocky Mountain National Park, which makes a beautiful backdrop for anglers looking to entice trout on this freestone river. The lower "Big T" below the dam on Estes Lake offers a plethora of public water, and a smorgasbord of rainbow trout.
Local fishermen and guides recommend a wide selection of baetis flies in early spring. But the river also sees healthy hatches of caddis and green drake flies.
Ken Kehmeir, an aquatic biologist in the area, said that anglers will see a 50-50 mix of browns and rainbows, and most fish will be around 11 inches.
Like past years, the Cache la Poudre looks promising. Last season, the Poudre produced record biomass readings. Reports from CDOW officials show that trend continuing.
The Front Range is also highly publicized for its string of trophy lakes that include Antero, Spinney Mountain and Eleven Mile.
Of the three amigos, Antero has an uncanny ability to grow fish in a hurry. Antero suffered a 53 percent winterkill in 2008, but plenty of fish made it through, according to the CDOW. Antero has also been stocked several times since 2008, and reports show fish growing 1 1/2 to 2 inches a month during the spring and summer.
Opening day at Spinney is projected for mid-April, and you shouldn't miss it. Though the reservoir draws quite a crowd, anglers have the possibility of catching multiple fish over 20 inches each day. Look for fish on the west end of the lake and near the dam if the Homestake Canal is flowing.
The CDOW wanted me to remind you to take as many northern pike from the reservoir as you can.
One sure bet when visiting the northwest region is that you will have no shortage of places to fish. Of course, there are the obvious choices: the Frying Pan, Roaring Fork, Colorado and the White. According to CDOW aquatic biologist Kendall Ross, all these waters should be red-hot again through 2010.
"These rivers have an excellent reputation and continue to live up to their high status," said Ross. "I just finished a survey on the Roaring Fork and we found a tremendous number of big white fish and huge browns as well."
Stocking efforts with Hofer-strain rainbows are also starting to show some serious progress, and the future looks bright, she said.
Ross also mentioned that the Frying Pan and Colorado showed excellent populations, and are jam-packed with monster fish.
"The Pan and Colorado are simply amazing!" she said. "They have the ability to grow monster fish, and anglers are going to want to spend some time on them this year."
Yes, the river fishing will once again be tremendous, but another gem in this region that often gets overlooked is the fabulous lake fishing.
The Grand Mesa alone is home to over 300 lakes, and most of them are inhabited by good numbers of fish.
According to Randy Hampton, CDOW public relations officer, the Grand Mesa has plenty to offer.
"The Mesa is unique because anglers have so many choices," he said. "There are numerous lakes where anglers will find easy shoreline access like: Eggleston, Island, Bonham, Vega, and the list goes on."