It never hurts to plan ahead. Organize. Prioritize. Call it a “bucket list” but “calendar” might be a more accurate word for chasing down the finest fishing found in the Rocky Mountain states.
OAKLEY RESERVOIR, ID: WALLEYES
Located in Cassia County, south of the town that shares its name, Oakley Reservoir — aka Lower Goose Creek Reservoir — covers more than 1,000 acres and has earned itself quite the reputation as a walleye producer; not only for numbers, but for big fish, too. In fact, the current state-record ’eye — a 17.88-pound behemoth — was caught here in September 2011. There’s currently a six-fish daily bag imposed on Oakley for walleyes; however, other species, including smallmouth, largemouth, whitefish, and a variety of trout are available. Walleyes can be notoriously finicky, and particularly so during the cold-water/hard-water months. Ice-fishermen should be prepared to move often until fish are found, then move again should the school relocate.
OTHER OPTIONS: Alamo Lake, AZ, Crappies: January’s a great time for both the lake’s black and white crappie. Boise River, ID, Whitefish: For those with a penchant for things chilly, this thriving population can keep things interesting for winter fly-fishermen.
FLAMING GORGE RESERVOIR, UT: BURBOT
Winter in the West isn’t all about trout. Sometimes, it’s about ugly. And slimy. And mottled green. Pack up a 5-gallon pail with these monstrous-looking creatures that were introduced illegally to the Green River system. Burbot are veracious predators on any number of game fish, including trout and smallmouth bass. So disliked and unwanted are these “freshwater lingcod,” burbot carry no daily bag limit, and anglers on Flaming Gorge are required by law to kill each one they catch. The burbot’s firm white meat is considered by most a delicacy. Burbot are most active after dark, and wintertime — the pre-spawn — is unquestionably the best time to catch them. Gear requirements are simple, with the most challenging part about the equation being the ability to endure the Utah cold.
OTHER OPTIONS: Kootenai River, MT, Trout: Work big streamers and nymphs deep. North Platte River, WY: Winter trout fanatics ply their trade by matching offerings and tactics to current water conditions; however, deep and small are often good choices.
LAKE POWELL, AZ: STRIPED BASS
During March and in a normal year, Powell’s waters begin to warm into the 50s, kicking the aquatic activity into gear. As its water temperature rises, Lake Powell’s t nomadic striper pods appear in open water; however, it’s often a matter of hunt ‘n peck until a school is located and the proper presentation determined. In deeper water, anglers will encounter cruising schools of fish and hit them with trolled crankbaits or, given slightly shallower depths, casting spoons such a Kastmaster spoons. Key in most instances is to use electronics to locate schools of bait and present lures under and alongside the pods. Early spring often means clear water and skittish fish; seasoned anglers will long-line trolled small lures, such as 3- to 4-inch lipped plugs, far behind the boat or off to one side using planer boards. No open water bite? The backs of the canyons warm quicker this time of year and are definitely worth a first look.
OTHER OPTIONS: Delaney Buttes Lake, CO, Ice-fishing: It’s that in-between time — ice/no ice. Do your homework, and the trout fishing can be fantastic. Lake Mead, NV, Largemouths: Toss a variety of soft plastics, shad-imitation cranks and slow-rolled spinnerbaits.
PYRAMID LAKE, NV: CUTTHROATS
Located 35 miles north of Reno on the Pyramid Lake Paiute Indian Reservation, Pyramid Lake is home to a world-class population of Lahontan cutthroat trout. Hatchery programs have supported the cutthroats’ remarkable resurgence, along with a small forage fish known as the Cui-ui (Tui chub minnow). It’s a trophy fishery for anglers from around the globe, who must follow a specific list of regulations, including required tribal permit and barbless hooks, and bait is prohibited. Anglers are also limited to the use of a single stringer, with only one trout permitted per stringer. Many bank-anglers use folding ladders placed in 3 to 4 feet of water, putting them within casting distance of cutts cruising offshore.
OTHER OPTIONS: Dogtown Lake, AZ, Trout: Rainbow trout share the spotlight with largemouth, smallmouth, channel catfish, and crappie. South Fork Clearwater River, ID: Anglers find end-of-the-season steelhead, using small bucktail jigs tipped lightly with shrimp or eggs and fished under a slip bobber.
BROWNLEE RESERVOIR, ID: CHANNEL CATS
Idaho’s section of the Snake River known as Brownlee Reservoir offers a fantastic, not the mention fine-eating, alternative in the form of eager and hard-fighting channel catfish. Cut-bait, culled shrimp, chicken livers or stink baits are the way to go. Fish ‘em with a Carolina rig on the bottom, but the same baits worked around shallower rocky points or creek channels under a slip-bobber can also produce. Brownlee’s night bite is often best, with fish often moving out of the deeper water onto shallow flats under cover of darkness to search for crayfish and shad.
OTHER OPTIONS: Green River, UT, Trout: This world-renowned trout fishery for much of the year comes into its own in May. Eleven Mile Reservoir, CO, Landlocked salmon: Anglers in the know troll lightweight spoons, spinners, and Wedding Ring rigs behind similarly light flashers on lead-core line.
FORT PECK RESERVOIR, MT: WALLEYES
There’s no denying these big percids will give any species a run for their money when it comes to being deep-fried, golden brown, served alongside a heaping helping of homemade coleslaw. Located in northeast Montana, Fort Peck Reservoir offers up some 50 species of fish, including walleyes, perhaps, the big lake’s most popular and populous game fish. It’s a lot of water — 245,000 surface acres — and the fishing can prove somewhat technical, making a day spent with a local guide definitely money well spent.
OTHER OPTIONS: Snake River, WY, Trout: Eighty miles of beautiful water, where technical nymphing on long 7- to 9-foot leaders seems to work well. Lake Coeur d’Alene, ID, Northern Pike: Cast big spoons and big black bucktail spinners along weedlines and depth changes/creek channels.
BLUE MESA RESERVOIR, CO: KOKANEE SALMON
Colorado’s scenic Blue Mesa Reservoir stretches across 9,000 acres behind Blue Mesa Dam on the Gunnison River. She’s a deep, cool-water lake, with depths ranging from 50 to 70 feet upstream to an impressive 300 feet in front of the dam. The kokanee’s story in Colorado is an interesting one, with beginnings in Blue Mesa dating back to the mid-1960s. Each autumn, mature “kokes” travel upstream en masse, arriving at the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, where hens are stripped, eggs are fertilized, and the natural process downstream begins anew. Unfortunately, shore-line anglers enjoy very limited success with kokanee due to the fish’s penchant for deeper water.
OTHER OPTIONS: Eagle Valley Reservoir, NV, Largemouths: Finesse worms in motor oil or pumpkinseed fished low ‘n slow are the ticket. Pleasant Lake, AZ, Striped Bass: Striper hunters use a variety of tactics, ranging from drop-shot rigs and live shad to swimbaits, big crankbaits and jigging spoons.
PROVO RIVER, UT: TROUT
With its headwaters high in the Uinta Mountains, Utah’s legendary Provo River flows through a variety of settings, offering miles and miles of some of the summer’s hottest — no pun intended! — trout fishing to be found anywhere in the West. All three sections of the river — upper, middle, and lower — hold trout; however, all three offer differing degrees of access, as well as a variety of species. The upper Provo is primarily private and features browns with some cutts. The middle and lower sections offer greater public access, as well as a threesome including the aforementioned browns and cutts, plus rainbows. Water conditions in the river typically are excellent during August.
OTHER OPTIONS: Redfish Lake, ID, Rainbows and Dolly Varden Trout: Troll small inline spinners, such as Mepps Aglia No. 1 in a rainbow-trout pattern. Rock Creek, MT, Rainbow Trout: Tailor-made for waders seeking ‘bows with smaller (size 12-16) dries in the upper section, and larger (size 4-10) in the mid-section.
MADISON RIVER, WY: TROUT
Perhaps the only thing more enjoyable than touring Yellowstone National Park is the late-summer trout fishing on the Madison River within the park’s boundaries. Fishing the Madison in Yellowstone begins in May and is seasonal in nature. River water temperatures climb during July and August, enough to somewhat curb trout-feeding activity. However, cooler weather throughout September puts trout, particularly big migrating browns, back on the feed. Eventually the Madison flows out of the park near West Yellowstone, into and out of Hebgen, Earthquake and Ennis lakes.
OTHER OPTIONS: Aurora Reservoir, CO, Walleyes/Perch: Go armed with a selection of chartreuse twister-tail jigs and a dozen ‘crawlers. Starvation Reservoir, UT, Walleyes: Thoroughly working rocky points with jig-and-’crawler rigs is a go-to tactic, as is flat-lining crankbaits, such as Hot ‘n Tots, along contours and channels.
GALLATIN RIVER, MT: TROUT
The aptly-named flow begins at Gallatin Lake located high in the park and culminates near the town of Three Forks. Unlike many well-known trout waters, the Gallatin offers excellent access and relatively low fishing pressure, along with incredible scenery and a wide variety of technical and not-so-technical angling challenges. Within the park, fishing can be excellent; however, it’s not without its restrictions, such as no floating devices and special regulations. Once you leave Yellowstone behind, float-fishing remains a no-no for some 75 miles, but access to the river via adjacent Highway 191 (Gallatin Road) is wonderful. This can be solitary wade-water at its finest.
OTHER OPTIONS: Salmon River, ID, Steelhead: Set up shop near the town of Salmon. Boaters pull plugs — Hotshots and Wiggle Worts; bank anglers cast Blue Fox, Mepps and Roostertail spinners from shore. Lake Mohave, NV, Striped bass: Live-baiters will want to stock plenty of anchovies; trollers will want to have Long A Bombers and other stickbaits on hand.
CHATFIELD LAKE, CO: WALLEYES
Located on the southern fringe of the Denver Metropolitan Area, this 1,355-acre storage reservoir is a popular recreation destination for outdoors enthusiasts of all genres. Chatfield is considered by many to be a trophy-walleye fishery, with an excellent population of fish in the 1- to 3-pound class, as well as an ample number of ‘eyes in the 10-pound plus category. Strict regulations include an 18-inch minimum-length restriction, a daily bag limit of three fish, and only one allowed longer than 21 inches. But big walleyes aren’t easy walleyes, a fact complicated even further by Chatfield’s schools of gizzard shad. Finding a hungry fish can be tough; however, when you do, there’s a great chance she’s going to be a dandy.
OTHER OPTIONS: Patagonia Lake, AZ, Crappies: While away a morning putting some fine-eating crappies in the bucket. Big Horn Lake, WY, Saugers: Lindy Rigs with minnows or ‘crawler harnesses fill the basket.
LAKE HAVASU, AZ: BLACK BASS
Both largemouths and feisty smallmouth bass reign supreme at Lake Havasu. The current state- record smallie came from Havasu in February 2017, weighing an impressive 6.28 pounds and measuring 21 inches. The daily bag limit for bass is six fish, with a 13-inch minimum-length restriction in effect. Havasu is a big lake, with more than 60 miles of shoreline possibilities for the bass hunter. Its smallmouths are nomadic, often requiring an investment of time — first to locate schooling fish, then convincing them to play the game. Anglers should think shad or crayfish when deciding what hard baits to present.
OTHER OPTIONS: Lake Mead, Striped Bass: Exceptional action can be found around Christmas on live shad or cut-bait. Magic Reservoir, ID, Rainbow Trout: Target the dam or lower canyon areas using small leadhead jigs, Swedish Pimples, or fire-tiger patterned spoons tipped with mealworms or mousies.
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