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Old 06-10-2013, 11:12 AM
129 posts, read 216,429 times
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Towering vistas, clean flowing rivers and rising rainbow trout. The angler dons his waders and heads upstream, looking for that perfect drift. A moose, uncaring of the anglers, splashes through the stream without a car. An overhanging bank spotted, the fly placed at its start, drifts down towards the waiting mouths of the hungry fish. A gentle slurp, and the fight is on! Rushing up and down the stream, the fish eventually succumbs to the anglers net, where it is lifted for a Catch - Photo - Release, and returned to its haunt to be caught yet again by some other fortunate soul.

This might be the vision one not having live in Colorado would conjure when imagining fishing in our great state. And it can be found ... I've been there! However, there is FAR more to fishing in Colorado than streams and rainbow trout.

Colorado has FORTY different sportfishes! The fairly unique dichotomy of the mountains and the plains allows for this myriad of different fish to exist in one state. There is no way I could cover all those in one single post, so I will have to do a series. Please bear with me while I compose this ridiculously long "post." I have personally caught 36 different species of sportfish in Colorado, as well as several not classified by the CPW as such. I am not much of a trophy angler, preferring to pursue many different species during their most interesting time to fish for them.

Let me also say I have a bias. When it comes to stocking fish, the CPW plants more rainbow trout than all other species combined. I have nothing against rainbow trout specifically, but these fish are NOT native to Colorado. It even goes so far as stocking these rainbow trout in places where they will not survive the summer. While I would not mind some stocking of these fish, I think we would be better off focusing on our native fish and/or offering diversity to anglers, and only stocking rainbow trout where they perform best. CPW research indicates I am in the wrong, as by far the majority of anglers are targeting these stocked trout. My belief is that many anglers are simply pursuing what is easiest, and since these trout are in such great supply, that's what the fishermen fish for.

Colorado's Native Trout

Purely my own opinion, but a visiting angler would be making a mistake targeting only the most famous trout waters in Colorado (Frying Pan River, Taylor River, Lower Colorado), as none of them contain Colorado's native trout. Easily one of the most beautiful trouts, these fish live mostly in the alpine waters of Colorado's high country.

There are three kinds of native trout: Greenback Cutthroat, Colorado Cutthroat and the Rio Grande Cutthroat. A fourth native trout, the Yellowfin Cutthroat, went extinct in the early 1900s due to over harvesting.


Greenbacks, the Colorado state fish, can be found only east of the continental divide, in the headwaters of the South Platte, Arkansas, and North Platte Rivers. There is some contention over which is the most pure strain, but all variations are beautiful.

Most of these fish will be in the 8-12 inch range, depending on your location, though some lakes will consistently produce specimens in the 16 inch range. I know of few places to find these natives over 20 inches, but they do exist. You will have to hike miles to find fish of the larger caliber.

For an easy introduction to Greenbacks, Lily Lake on the eastern edge of RMNP is a great place to find these fish. Even a non-angler will find joy in watching these bright red fish spawning at Lily Lake in June. Just head over to the inlet, an are closed to fishing. They can be found by the dozens, if not hundreds.

To get into the truly great Greenback fishing, you will have to research, and hike hike hike. The scenery is fantastic and the fish LOVE a bushy dry fly. Targeting these fish can almost be compared to hunting, as one is often slowly sneaking along the shoreline, looking for a red submarine. Cast well in front of the fish and hold on!


The Colorado Cutthroat is definitely the Greenback's brother. Found in very similar environment's to the Greenback, but on the western slopes. These fish can become incredibly red during their spawning season, offering an amazing photo opportunity for the successful angler. Many waters on the western side of the divide are very rich, allowing for the Colorado Cutthroat to grow to larger sizes than its eastern brother.

Fishing for the Colorado Cutthroat is generally much the same as the Greenback. One of the most accessible places to find these fish is once again in RMNP. Go over Trail Ridge Road to the upper headwaters of the Colorado River, where you'll find these fish hiding under the meadow banks of the Colorado where it is only 6-10 feet wide. You'll have to be careful not to spook them as you walk up to the river.

( Photo courtesy "The Denver Channel )

Perhaps the best known place to fish for these beauties is in the heart of the flattops, at Trappers Lake. This road is accessible by car, with only a short walk to the lake. It is also one of the easier places to fish for Colorado Cutthroats from a human powered vessel, which certainly increases one's chances.

Otherwise, once again strap on your walking shoes. It is time to explore the Flat tops or Grand Mesa to look for trophy specimens of this fish. Being so prized, one will have to do much research to find them, as nobody will be willing to part with their favorite lakes.


( Photo from the Santa Fe Reporter )

The Rio Grande Cutthroat Trout occupies the south western portion of the state, as well as New Mexico. I'll be the first to say I am no expert when it comes to the Rios. An angler is going to have to do his own research here, but I can tell you two great places to find them. The most obvious is the upper Rio Grande River. THe second is the Weminuche wilderness, Colorado's largest wilderness.

Next up, the fish with teeth! Walleye, Northern Pike and Tiger Musky!

Last edited by Mike from back east; 06-10-2013 at 11:24 AM..
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Old 06-10-2013, 11:23 AM
Location: Beautiful Niagara Falls ON.
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Beautiful pics of a beautiful fish. We have lots of kinds of trout here but none so vividly coloured.
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Old 06-10-2013, 12:55 PM
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I add this perspective since I, like many Colorado people....used to do mountain activities and fish a lot...I think that those with experience will agree...fully...

Nice pictures...like an ad from one of those high end magazines....

Colorado trout fishing....beautiful, scenic and lots of really good fish, yes...like in the pictures...but....just know...somethings.....you will fight bumper to bumper 80 mph traffic, accidents, backups...hours to get to a spot. When you arrive there will be so many shiny sports vehicles and people in the overflowing parking lot or trailhead...million dollar head to toe outdoor costumes...strutting...to the spot...everyone seems to be enjoying this years newest fishing gear...it has become a big time commercialized scene in many ways...all throughout the Rockies.

And then you notice...so many fisherman everywhere...I cant find an easy place like I want...it all seems...sort of serious, almost competitive or trendy...this isn't how it used to be. Then to top it off you are catching fish that were obviously caught repeatedly...and then thrown back...to be caught again and again, again, again again, so many times...(the elite, superior so called catch and release in action)... and you (should) start to think...hmmm...what about sportsman's/outdoorsman's ethics?. Despite the beauty of the landscape and fish, it will make you wish you were doing regular old fishing...the way it's supposed to be.
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Old 06-10-2013, 01:15 PM
129 posts, read 216,429 times
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Originally Posted by ColoTroutlHntr View Post

And then you notice...so many fisherman everywhere...I cant find an easy place like I want...it all seems...sort of serious, almost competitive or trendy...this isn't how it used to be.

You'll notice I have not covered Rainbow and Brown Trout in my first installment. THAT is where you find "the scene" ... those guys covered in Orvis gear whipping $1000 rods elbow to elbow, looking for the next "pig"

If you're pursuing these native trout, then often you'll be unlucky to run into more than one other angler on any given day! A so much different experience!
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Old 06-10-2013, 01:20 PM
Location: on a hill
346 posts, read 391,706 times
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The serious angler also doesn't divulge his favorite haunts. Guides and outdoor journalists do plenty of that as it is. Colorado fishing isn't a solitary endeavor anymore. Hasn't been since the mid '80s, when Colorado's human population began to explode.
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Old 06-10-2013, 02:34 PM
129 posts, read 216,429 times
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The Walleye is probably one of Colorado's most underrated fisheries. Notable for its fine table fare, most of the Colorado front range reservoirs contain good populations of this toothy critter. During spring, when the trout rivers are blowing out, is one of the best times for targeting walleye, as they are staging to spawn or right after, when they haven't eaten.

Walleye are generally targeted from a boat by trolling crankbaits / worm harnesses or jigging curly tail grubs. We do all our walleye fishing from a canoe, so don't think you need to spend thousands of dollars to get out there! Also popular, is fishing for walleye from shore at night. Walleye come in shallow at night to feed on baitfish, and you can catch them from shore with stickbaits of various kinds.

Most of Colorado's reservoirs have low recruitment rate for natural spawning of walleye, so you shouldn't be too worried about taking some home for dinner. The CPW has an annual egg take, where walleye eggs from trophy lakes are collected and fostered to ensure fry for the rest of the state. These lakes usually have slot limits, so make sure you know the rules! These slot limits are in place to allow the walleye to go to trophy size, and they can grow quite large here, well over 10 pounds!

( Photo courtesy CDPW and Fish Explorer )

If numbers are more your game, target the smaller lakes that have walleye in them. They are often under utilized and have far less boat traffic, so it makes for a peaceful experience. You'll usually catch smaller walleye, in the 14-20" range, but those are the best eating anyway.

Many lakes are stocked with Saugeye, as well. These fish are a hybrid of walleye and sauger, and can be difficult to tell apart form walleye. When fishing for them, you'll usually do better with the grub type baits. Saugeye don't grow to the trophy sizes that walleye do, but they grow fast and are a little easier to catch. They also taste just as good.

Perhaps the best part of Colorado's walleye fishery is that it exists right in town! Both Chatfield and Cherry Creek are right by Denver and have trophy walleye fishing. If you're in Loveland or Fort Collins, Carter Lake is expected to produce near record size walleye at this time, too. Many of the plains lakes have large populations of walleye, and the drive to them is much easier than battling up I-70 into the mountains.


Anglers in Colorado have a mixed relationship with Northern Pike. Some love their big fish, and others identify Northern Pike as an invasive species eating their precious trout. One thing is for certain, Northern Pike in Colorado can grow to huge proportions eating stocked trout!

(Photo courtesy Nate Zelinsky and Fish Explorer )

There are several lakes in Colorado that can produce trophy Northern Pike, with Field and Stream including one Colorado lake in its top 10 best place to fish for Northern Pike. Pretty impressive when you think about how good the northern pike fishing is supposed to be in the northern states, Canada and Alaska.

One problem with northern pike is just how well they do in Colorado. Several lakes, such as Spinney Mountain Reservoir, have so many "average" pike, 18-24", that they encourage you to keep every one you catch. Luckily, they are quite tasty, once you learn how to deal with the Y bones. I like mine grilled.

One way Colorado is dealing with the "pike problem" while trying to keep big toothy fish available is stocking Tiger Muskies. The Tiger Muskie is a hybrid between northern pike and muskellunge. They grow fast and are very mean! The big benefit to the Tiger Musky is that it does not reproduce. Being a hybrid, it retains some of the best qualities of the parent fish, while being sterile. This allows CDPW to control the number of predator fish in a lake, adjusting up or down depending on the lake health.

( PHoto courtesy CDPW )

Tiger musky can grow very large here, and the state record is out there waiting to be broken. A specimen over 50 pounds was recently found dead at Gross Reservoir!

Smaller Tiger Musky have recently been stocker at several lakes across Colorado. The program is working well according to biologists, and they hope to repeat that success at more locales. My dad was lucky enough to catch one of these new plants just last week.

Next on the list ... CARP! Yes, that's right ... those "garbage" fish are quickly becoming a hot target in Colorado.
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Old 06-10-2013, 06:51 PM
Location: Western Colorado
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I was up on the Grand Mesa last week, caught 22 rainbow trout on a spinning rig with a chrome spoon. Kept 8 of the biggest. I probably had twice as many jump and throw the hook off as I caught. I've never had so much fun, and well worth the AHEM $41.00 fishing license.
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Old 06-11-2013, 05:21 AM
Location: 80904 West siiiiiide!
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"The moose splashes through the water without a car" lmfao....

Very nice pictures man, I wish I had time for that.
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Old 06-11-2013, 10:23 AM
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Nice, I enjoyed the pics. I'm not into fishing, but I always like to see more ways to enjoy Colorado.
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Old 06-11-2013, 11:34 AM
129 posts, read 216,429 times
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CARP! Many anglers think you mean CRAP!

Carp have earned a reputation as being a trash fish, unfit for human consumption, and therefore unworthy of an angler's pursuit. The ironic part being, carp were introduced into the US specifically as a food fish! With Catch - Photo - Release gaining a huge following in the past 25 years, anglers have started once again gaining respect for the Golden Ghost.

Colorado is leading a charge in a revolution in the US, recognizing the carp's great potential as a sportfish. You may not want to eat them (though I have given several away to families who wanted them) but there is no fish in Colorado so accessible that puts up a remotely close fight. When a carp feels something it doesn't like, it bolts with an incredible burst of strength.

There are two kinds of carp in Colorado. The more recognizable Common Carp (with its subspecies the mirror carp) and the relatively new Grass Carp. Both kinds can be caught using similar methods. The most popular method would be using bread or corn on a free floating hook or European style rig. However, the big revolution has been targeting carp on a fly rod.

It doesn't take a lot of effort to find carp on the front range. They are in almost every pond or lake, as well as right in the middle of downtown in the South Platte River. Finding them is probably the easiest part, as they are very smart fish. Unlike most fish, carp have a double mouth, and taste their food before eating it. If your offering does not pass their inspection, they spit it out and move on.

A great choice for Denverites would be Chatfield Reservoir. I happen to know a state record carp has been released to continue growing!

( Photo Courtesy TheFishFly, Vance Haug )

If it wasn't enough trouble convincing carp to take your bait, fly fishing for them takes the game a step further. Fly fishing for carp generally involves finding a feeding fish first, by looking for a tail sticking out of the water and mud being pushed around. The angler must then very carefully place his fly near to the fish without spooking it, and slowly twitch the fly until he can feel the carp suck in the fly. A strip set will ensure the fish does not bust your line immediately, as once they feel the pressure of the hook, the carp will take off like a freight train. There have been stories of carp rushing so hard they pulled a rod right out of an unprepared angler's hand!

Many of Colorado's trout purists have been converted to also fishing for carp. Their feeding and fighting nature is growing them the reputation of "Freshwater Bonefish" as fly fishing for them is much akin to stalking the saltwater flats.

Both species of carp grow to ridiculous proportions. There is probably no better fish to target for a novice angler wanting to feel the strength of a 10 pound fish, as 10 pound carp are considered average.

Grass carp are currently Colorado's largest fish, growing in excess of 60 pounds. They were stocked in many Colorado lakes to control weed excesses. Unlike the common carp, these fish are sterile, which allows them to devote all their energy to feeding instead of reproducing. This also means they are limited in supply, so please take care of the resource!

( Photo Courtesy TheFishFly, Lee Novotny )

Next up, back to the high country for Colorado's chars!
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