February 22, 2012
As anyone who has ever explored them will attest, the Rocky Mountains contain a wealth of diverse fisheries — almost an embarrassment of riches. There is so much good fishing to be had, it really requires a plan to best exploit it. Herewith is a calendar that can serve as the basis for a month-by-month angling plan in the nation's premier mountain range. Use it as starting point in organizing your own year-long fishing adventure.
Wyoming's Flaming Gorge Reservoir has received plenty of publicity over the years for its monster brown and lake trout. Some of the most exciting fishing occurs during the coldest part of the year when hearty anglers fish through the ice with light tackle and catch lakers that can weigh up to 25 pounds. The ice is usually thick enough for walking by late December and stays that way well into February.
Most lake trout will weigh 4 to 10 pounds, so the favored tackle is a medium spinning outfit with 8- to 10-pound line. Preferred artificial lures are jigs — - either heavy, quick-sinking ones like the Krocodile and Hopkins, or feathered jigs with lead heads. Some folks use small suckers for bait.
Flaming Gorge is south of Green River, Wyoming. There are dozens of good accesses along Highway 530, running south to Manilla. For fishing information, contact the Wyoming Game & Fish Department, Cheyenne, WY 82001; (307) 777-4601.
Lee's Ferry, the 15-mile portion of the Colorado River below Lake Powell's Glen Canyon Dam, though not up to the excellence of the mid-1970s, still ranks as one of the top tailwater fisheries in the West. Anglers who hire guides or know what they're doing can usually catch a few dozen 14- to 24-inch rainbows a day during January, and might occasionally hook a dandy of 5-plus pounds.
Spawning at Lee's Ferry starts in October and often continues into March. So a large number of trout might still be on their redds around the areas where the water flows gently over a gravel bar, while others sit in feeding lies behind boulders, or in slow-moving riffles and deep holes.
Guide Rocky Lovett suggests fly-fisherman bring a variety of flies that include scuds (freshwater shrimp imitations), Wooly Boogers and San Juan Worms, a fly made popular on another tailwater fishery in New Mexico.
To reach Lee's Ferry, take U.S. 89A from Bitter Springs, Arizona, in the southeast or from Kanab, Utah, in the northwest. The turn-off to the campground and paved launch ramp is located at Marble Canyon.
Marble Canyon Outfitters (P.O. Box 3646, Page, AZ 86040; 800-533-7339) offers half-day and full-day trips.
The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) expended great effort to make the 12 miles of Dolores River between McPhee Dam and the Bradfield Bridge into one of the finest trout fisheries in the state. The DOW stocked more than 25,000 rainbow, Snake River cutthroat and brown trout into the river in the 1980s and also limited anglers to artificial lures or flies only.
Fishing the Dolores in the winter means enduring cold weather, but the reward might be a trout over 20 inches. Most fish average 15-18 inches, however.
Brown, black or green Wooly Worms, tied on No. 6, 8 or 10 hooks, work best when the sun's on the water, while lighter colors are good on cloudy days or early and late in the day. Gold Ribbed Hare's Ears, Montana Stones and other nymphs also work well.
The key to success is keeping the fly down deep. A 6- to 7-weight fly rod, rigged with a floating line and a highly visible strike indicator fastened where the leader attaches to the line, makes a good rig for this kind of fishing. Keep casts straight upstream and let current carry the line downstream while mending line, if necessary.
The turn-off for the Bradfield Bridge section is about a mile north of Pleasant View, which is reached by taking U.S. 666 north out of Cortez. It's 5 miles from the turn-off to the river and the route is well signed.
For guide service, contact Duranglers, 923 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301; (970) 385-4081.
When full, Arizona's Roosevelt Lake provides 17,000 surface acres and 88 miles of shoreline to fishermen. Most of them spend hours chasing after the largemouth bass, but Roosevelt is also one of the top crappie fisheries in the West, especially in April when the crappie move into the brush to spawn.
Live minnows fished under a bobber or small crankbaits and inline spinners, like the Mepps, Yellow Jacket, Vibrax or Panther Martin, will catch crappie at this time of year. The most popular lures, however, are tiny lead-head jigs, dressed with either a maribou feather body or a plastic bait such as the Berkley Power Grub.
Guide Curt Rambo, who lives on the lake, prefers plastic jigs. During the cold months, he usually jigs straight down next to the boat and in the spring he casts it into the shorelines and brush.
Roosevelt is 35 miles from Globe on Highway 88, or you can take Highway 87 (Payson Highway) to Highway 188 at Tonto Basin and go through Punkin Center.
Guide service is available from Curt Rambo, P.O. Box 760, Tonto Basin, AZ 85553; (928) 479-2215.
For top Rocky Mountain fishing options for May, June, July and August in 2012, check out page two
New Mexico's San Juan River is 30 miles east of Farmington. The river, flowing from Navajo Lake, remains clear and cold as it winds its through desert-like country.
Access to the best fishing sections is surprisingly easy. A short walk will put you within easy casting distance of dozens of finning trout. Because the water rarely gets deeper than your thighs, wading is a snap.
Strict rules keep the fishing on the San Juan excellent. The first quarter-mile below Navajo Dam is catch-and-release, and only artificials or flies with barbless hooks are legal. The next 3 1/2 miles have the same tackle restrictions, but anglers may keep one trout that must be at least 20 inches and killed immediately. Once you kill a legal fish, you must quit fishing.
The San Juan Worm, Wooly Buggers, streamers and any number of dry flies or nymphs are productive, depending on the hatch and time of the year.
For guide service, contact Duranglers, 923 Main Ave., Durango, CO 81301; (970) 385-4081.
Supposedly, 20,000 trout, including rainbows, browns and cutthroats, inhabit each mile of the Green River for the first 7 miles below Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Even the novice angler can hook a couple dozen trout a day, although artificial lures or flies are the only legal means to do it.
The month of June means numerous hatches of blue-winged olives and caddis flies. The arrival of cicadas also takes place, and the trout voraciously feed on any that hit the water.
A drift boat provides the ideal method to fish the Green, but it's possible to use a float tube or merely hike the trail along the shoreline that goes from the dam to Little Hole, the first major take-out point.
To get to Dutch John, take Highway 191 north from Vernal, Utah, or Highway 530 south from Green River. Lodging is available at Flaming Gorge Lodge at Dutch John or in nearby Manilla.
For guides, contact Spinner Fall Fly Shop, P.O. Box 350, Dutch John, UT 84023; (877) 811-3474.
If you're a transplanted Midwesterner living in the Rocky Mountains and miss catching big walleyes, Idaho's Salmon Falls Creek Reservoir is the place to go, and July is the perfect time. Every year, anglers catch several fish in the 10- to 12-pound range. In fact, many of Idaho's state-record walleyes have come out of Salmon Creek.
The secret to big walleyes is simple — fish at night. The fish tend to congregate along the rocky shelves in fairly shallow water. A Rapala Shad Rap lure has accounted for several big Salmon Falls catches. Certainly, other crankbaits will work, but why go against the grain? Live nightcrawlers and plastic grubs are also popular walleye baits.
Salmon Falls Creek is about 40 miles south of Twin Falls and just north of Jackpot, Nev., on Highway 93.
Montana's Bitterroot River, flowing through the picturesque valley of the same name, provides about 85 miles of excellent and basically uncrowded late-summer fishing. August is a prime time for enticing rainbows, browns, brook and cutthroat trout with dry flies. Small bugs are prevalent at this time of year. Small nymphs are good, and hatches of mayflies, caddis, stoneflies and other bugs always occur regularly. Grasshoppers makeup a large part of the trout's diet, so hoppers are good, as well.
The Bitterroot has an East and West fork. The East Fork passes through private land, but it's fishable as long as you stay between the banks. Using a float tube, raft or McKenzie-style boat to float this stretch is also legal.
The West Fork flows from Painted Rock Lake through a narrow valley and holds good numbers of cutthroat, brown and brook trout. There are several public fishing accesses along the main river all the way from Darby to where the Bitterroot flows into the Clark Fork, near Missoula. A prime area is the stretch between Connor and Hamilton where Sleeping Child Creek feeds into the river. Fishing is also good farther north between Hamilton and Stevensville.
Getting to the Bitterroot is easy; State Highway 93 parallels it for most of its length. For guide service, contact River Otter Fly Shop, 5516 Old Hwy 93, Florence MT 59833; (406) 273-4858.
For your best Rocky Mountain fishing options for September, October, November and December for 2012, please check out page three
Scenic 180-mile-long Lake Powell on the Utah-Arizona is home to a burgeoning population of striped bass. The fish go into feeding mode, binging on threadfin shad in the fall. When this happens, the surface activity gets hot.
Topwater plugs, like chuggers and poppers or those with propellers, work well. Stickbaits, like a Zara Spook or a Dogwalker, are also good. If the fish are deep, try using a 1/2 or 5/8-ounce white jig. Bait fishermen do extremely well with cut anchovies.
The top areas in the fall into the winter months are the backs of the canyons, especially in the Bullfrog and Hite areas of the lake. Many big fish, up to 30 pounds, are also taken by trollers in the Dirty Devil and the upper Colorado River areas.
The expert source on fishing is Wayne Gustaveson at (928) 645-2753.
There is an excellent resort at Wahweap, including a full-service marina with boat rentals, a large motel and restaurant. All other services are available at nearby Page.
As the aspens around Colorado's Vallecito Lake change color and temperatures fall each night, the lake's abundant northern pike population moves into the shallows for one last feeding binge before the lake freezes.
In 1962, the Colorado Division of Wildlife planted 8,400 northern pike fry in this Pine River reservoir to control a huge sucker population. Since then, anglers have taken numerous pike over 25 pounds, including Earl Walden's 30-pound, 1-ounce former state record.
Red and white spoons, minnow-type plugs, spinnerbaits and other large, flashy lures catch pike, but live waterdogs, fished on the bottom from a drifting boat, are the most effective fish-getters. Use a stout, short shank, No. 4 live-bait hook passed through the salamander's lips, cast the 'dog into the wind and feed out approximately 75 feet of line. On windy days, you can add a 1/8 or 1/4 ounce rubber-core sinker about two feet above the bait.
The lake area is a summer vacation destination with plenty of lodging and seven U.S. Forest Service campgrounds near the lake. Durango, 22 miles away, has all services available.
The easiest route from either Pagosa Springs or Durango is State Highway 160 to Bayfield, and north on County Road 501.
Arizona's Apache Lake, located about 50 miles east of Phoenix on the Salt River, has earned a reputation for its excellent winter smallmouth bass fishing.
The smallmouth's favorite food is crawdads, which live among the rocks. So when the water cools, the bass normally move into shallow areas to feed. Rocky shorelines, reefs and underwater points are all prime areas at Apache. The fish also tend to stay in the shallows longer each day because the water temperature remains cool.
Use light tackle and lures that imitate crawdads, letting them bump the bottom occasionally.
The only access to Apache Lake is State Highway 88, also known as the Apache Trail. The lake is 32 miles from Apache Junction or 14 miles from Roosevelt Dam when approaching from the northeast.
The Apache Lake Resort and Marina (P.O. Box 15627, Tortilla Flat, AZ 85290; 928-467-2511) offers motel rooms, restaurant, private launch ramp, tackle shop, RV hook-ups and boat rentals.
Although the fishing can be tough, the reward can be excellent at Nevada's Pyramid Lake, located on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation. Pyramid is the home to monster Lahontan cutthroat trout up to 20 pounds.
During the winter, using a lead line or a downrigger and trolling Dardevles, Torpedoes or large Wiggle Warts close to the bottom are the most productive. Shore anglers often use the same lures, but it's necessary to find steep, rocky shorelines for the best success. Fly-fishermen usually use heavy duty rigs in the 9-weight class with a fast-sinking shooting head, then tie on pair of No. 4 Wooly Worms — one on the end of the tippet and the other on a dropper about 2 feet above. Black with a red tail, purple, olive and brown are the preferred colors. Leech patterns also work. The key is letting the flies sink to the bottom, then retrieving it slowly but steadily.
To get to Pyramid, travel north on Highway 446 from the Reno-Sparks area for about 35 miles. You can purchase tribal boating and fishing permits at the Pyramid Lake Store. The folks who run the store can also provide useful fishing information if you call (702) 673-3667.