February 02, 2016
The Rocky Mountain region offers a wide variety of options for anglers throughout the year. From scenic mountain trout streams in the high-country, to Southwest bass lakes that produce rod-bending lunkers, there's no shortage of hotspots to explore.
What follows are a few top picks that are worth considering for your next fishing trip. They represent some of the best options for each month of the year, so put these waters on your list.
Lake Cascade Perch in Idaho
Excellent winter fishing for perch is in store for ice-fishermen in this up-and-coming lake. The Idaho Fish and Game Department restored perch in the Lake Cascade six years ago.
The result was a new state record. Biologists expect that record might be broken again soon. The perch continue to grow, and the fishing is great. Fishermen catch lots of perch over one pound, with many of them up to 14 inches in length. The serious fishermen here are now using micro-jigs. Cut baits are always popular. And there are rainbow trout, kokanees and landlocked coho taken through the ice on this lake as well.
Other Options: Rainbow trout are active this winter in South Fork Reservoir in Nevada, with largemouths and smallmouths also taken through the ice. Burbot are ugly, but they are a culinary delicacy that can be found in the cold water of Wyoming's Flaming Gorge Reservoir.
Bighorn River Trout in Montana
The Bighorn fishes well all year. To say the weather can turn nasty during winter is an understatement. But therein lies one of the big advantages of going after the trophy brown and rainbow trout this time of year on the Bighorn. There are fewer anglers.
Anglers are assured of open water on good stretches of the Bighorn below the Afterbay Dam. There are 20-inch-plus browns and rainbows to be caught here. Most of the fishing is from a drift boat, but there is also fishing from shorelines, it's just that far less water can be covered from shore than by rushing down the fast current in a boat. This is big water, big fish angling.
Other Options: Lake trout are the prime winter species in Blue Mesa Reservoir in Colorado. A magnificent trout fishery thrives in the North Platte River of Wyoming, with few fishermen this time of year.
Granby Lake Trout in Colorado
This is the second-largest coldwater lake in Colorado. Its 7,000 acres harbor rainbow, cutbow and brown. As a bonus it also has a good mackinaw (lake trout) fishery, some of which run in the 20- to 40-pound range. Favorite techniques include trolling lures from a boat, and casting Rapalas and Kastmasters from shore. Ice-out is an excellent time to go after these fish.
Gitzit jigs tipped with sucker meat and/or nightcrawlers work very well this time of year. Granby is truly a trophy lake, where many anglers advocate returning the big lunkers in a catch-and-release attitude that improves the odds of the big, slower growing mackinaw trout gaining trophy status.
The smaller lakers under 5 pounds are very numerous and are often considered better table-fare. The fishing here is excellent, and the weather unpredictable in this part of Colorado in late winter and early spring.
Other Options: Biologists have netted and released a New Mexico state-record walleye in Clayton Lake. Smallmouths bite along shorelines in C.J. Strike Reservoir in Idaho.
Bitterroot Trout in Montana
In the heart of some of the best and most famous trout fishing in the world flows the beautiful Bitterroot River of Montana. And this is the time of year that it is most famous. The magical Skwala stonefly hatch dazzles anglers who get in on it for the very first time. Both the anglers and the big brown and rainbow trout go crazy in the feeding and fishing frenzy that ensues.
The hatch usually begins in March and often goes through most of April. Many fish in the 10- to 16-inch range are taken. The Bitterroot flows into Clark Fork at Missoula. The fish are wild, the scenery is Western and the fishing is perfect.
Wading is popular and effective, but be prepared for the icy waters of a Montana early spring.
Other Options: To help the excellent trout fishery in Colorado's Spinney Reservoir, anglers are encouraged to harvest all the northern pike they catch. Cutthroat fishing in the Tongue River of the Wyoming Bighorns begins at the lower elevations.
Lake Powell Stripers in Arizona
This huge lake is a haven for striped bass and has become one of the top fishing spots in the world for this species. Lake Powell stripers grow to a prodigious size. Many trophy fish are taken here.
May fishing is good, and it only improves in intensity as the famous "striper boils" are about to commence and last through the summer, where aggressive schools of stripers herd bait fish toward the surface of the lake and then go into a feeding frenzy that soon attracts anglers, too.
Frozen anchovies are a popular bait.
Other Options: Wyoming'sfabled backcountry trout experience begins in the inner regions of Yellowstone National Park where stream and river are accessible only on foot. Walleye anglers hit Canyon Ferry Reservoir on the Montana plains.
Brantley Largemouths in N.M.
Plentiful rains have flowed into Brantley Lake in southeastern New Mexico and brought with it a resurgent largemouth bass population. Anglers are expected to do quite well fishing this lake with bass and other fish on a big rebound. It also holds crappies, bluegills, walleyes, white bass, and channel cats.
But largemouths will be the fish many are after. Popular lures here include tube lures and jigs. The fishing is expected to pick up even more this fall as water temperatures moderate and largemouth appetites intensify.
The lake lies about 12 miles north of Carlsbad, N.M., in the Chihuahuan Desert. It's in Brantley Lake State Park where there are camping sites and boat ramps. The area is full of desert plants and animals for a diverse nature experience.
Other Options: Salmon flies that measure 1.5 inches long create a spectacular trout fishing experience during the peak of the hatch on the banks of the Big Hole River of western Montana.
Arizona Salt River Chain Walleyes
Good walleye fishing can be found in these arid surroundings. The Arizona Game and Fish Department has put lot of effort into creating a good walleye fishery in Saguaro, Canyon and Apache lakes. All are part of the Salt River Chain of lakes east of Phoenix. These fish feed on shad, so lures that imitate shad work well.
These fish also show good growth, getting up to 21 inches by their third year. In Apache Lake, anglers often fish the upper end. Trolling lures that imitate these shad is a favorite technique. Fish are often caught in 10 to 30 feet of water.
This is very close to the southern-most range of walleyes in North America. So, these fish are somewhat at the mercy of a changing and warming environment.
Largemouths can also be taken here, as well as smallmouth bass fished with crankbaits off points.
Other Options: Smallmouth bass fishermen do well in Flaming Gorge Reservoir in Utah. Colorado high country mountain lakes in the great multitude and variety have good trout fishing where trout bite on every fly ever tied.
Snake River Trout in Idaho
This is the prime trout season on the South Fork of the Snake. It's famous blue ribbon trout fishing in Idaho, of course, and this is the time of the dry fly. Grasshopper patterns make big high protein food for big trout. It's certainly one of the most exciting ways to fish, with Snake River cutthroats and rainbows slashing furiously at these offerings right on the water surface.
When that doesn't work, fly-fishermen try caddis and Claassenia stonefly patterns. One of the best stretches of the Snake near the Wyoming border flows out of Palisades Reservoir and downstream 50 miles. This is classic trout fishing, and really is some of the best in the world. The area embodies the romance of the American West, and many of the classic trout fishing photos have been taken on it.
Other Options: Wyoming's Green River trout bite caddis and stonefly patterns in late summer. Lake Roberts on the outskirts of the Gila Wilderness in New Mexico has largemouths, and some stocked trout, with national forest campgrounds near the lake.
Glendo Walleyes in Wyoming
In a state renowned for its trout fishing, walleye anglers have a lot of waters all to themselves. One of the best is Glendo Reservoir out on the prairie near Thunder Basin National Grassland in eastern Wyoming. The walleyes here are famous for being fat, having eaten vast quantities of the gizzard shad that inhabit this reservoir.
Most of the fishing is by boat, but that is only because not many have tried the shoreline. There are some good points and rocky areas on the south side that anglers reportedly have done quite well on. All kinds of baits such as leaches and worms work, but in late summer many fishermen key in on the walleyes fishing Twister Tails.
As the season progresses the number of walleye anglers on Glendo dwindles even more. But the good fishing remains, and they can be caught through the ice, which hardens well at this northerly latitude.
Other Options: Trout bite especially well in late summer and fall on Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho. Largemouths are hitting on Saguaro lake in Arizona, where the temperatures are still just as warm as the name of this lake implies.
Knott Creek Trout in Nevada
Knott Creek Reservoir is truly for the avid trout fishermen in Nevada. It sets in a treeless but aridly beautiful environment. It's also somewhat difficult to get to, since it is in the middle of nowhere. But it's all worth it because the trout fishing is very good, and the Nevada Department of Wildlife is trying to keep it that way by limiting fishing to artificial flies and lures only.
Rainbows and tiger trout (brown-brook trout hybrids) do well. Bowcuts (rainbow-cutthroat hybrids) are also stocked. Excellent late season flies include damsel patterns and dark Woolly Buggers.
Other Options: Steelhead thrive in the Clearwater River in Idaho, and now is a great time to go after them.
Colorado's Delaney Butte Trout
This series of lakes in north-central Colorado has some excellent fishing throughout the year. The lakes are considered one of the best places in Colorado for trophy trout. The largest of the three lakes is North Delaney, and it is managed for trophy brown trout. Browns weighing more than 10 pounds are taken here.
South and East Delaney Lakes have large rainbows, Snake River cutthroats and hybrid cutbows. All three lakes are restricted to flies and lures only. Good patterns include Woolly Buggers, Olive Scuds and Chironomids. Lure fishrmen use Kastmasters, along with jigs and lures that imitate crayfish.
Other Options: Ferocious tiger muskies terrorize every other living creature in Bluewater Lake in New Mexico. Pyramid lake in Nevada is one of the top cutthroat trout waters in the state this time of year.
Holter Reservoir Perch in Montana
There are so many yellow perch in Holter Reservoir that the walleye fishing is at times very difficult. The walleyes simply are too well fed on perch to be tempted by any bait or lure. That is a good indication of the quality of the perch ice fishing on this northerly Montana lake during winter.
The perch swim in hordes and when one of those schools get near an ice fishing hole, the ensuing fishing spree is memorable. Jigs tipped with crawlers work well. But then when the bite is really on, so does about any kind of lure or bait lowered through the ice.
Other Options: Walleyes in Utah's Starvation Reservoir aren't starving, but they are quite hungry during winter. Brown trout in Cave Lake near Ely, Nevada, has noteworthy brown trout fishing in winter.