Stereotype: “a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing.”
Do you think Colorado is stereotyped? I do. Firmly. And as with many stereotypes, the belief is not congruent with the reality. Is it a bad thing? Maybe, maybe not…depends on your position. As a Colorado outdoorsman, I think it’s a shame more of my peers don’t see through it. What is this oversimplified idea our fine state is tagged with? Trout . . . specifically the idea that trout are all Colorado has to offer anglers. Trust me, the stereotype doesn’t fit.
As a professional fisherman, I travel a lot. Since I angle from a traditional bass boat, I’m often viewed as “bass fisherman” – another stereotype that doesn’t quite fit because I pursue all kinds of fish but just happen to like a bass boat’s fishability on the water. Anyway, when “Joe Angler” see’s my boat at some gas station or even many of the lakes in our region, I very often get comments about our perceived lack of bass fishing. Same thing when the conversation turns to walleye, pike, panfish and a slew of other nationally popular species. Geez, last summer I coached the high school bass fishing national championship consisting of 175 high school teams from around the country competing on a huge lake in Tennessee. The fact that we were from “Colorado of all places” as the emcee put it at one point, was amusing until we won the whole event. In an ensuing interview, I was asked how we won it all given that “all you fish for is trout back home” . . . an incorrect assumption that perfectly makes my point.
Make no mistake, Colorado has incredible trout fishing…world class even. Thousands of miles of rivers and streams, countless high-altitude lakes, and a very successful and prolific trout hatchery system that ensures nearly any body of water in our state is stocked with “catchable trout” (a term describing 10-inch trout deemed large enough to fish for immediately) has rightly earned Colorado trout fishing fame. But, and it’s a big but, Colorado has a lot more to offer anglers than just trout.
Colorado relies heavily on our extensive reservoir system to keep our growing thirst and agriculture needs quenched. In a serendipitous twist, many of these reservoirs are adjacent to our urban areas. In the Denver Metro area, Cherry Creek and Chatfield reservoirs come to mind. Down south you’ll find Pueblo Reservoir and up north Horsetooth, Carter, and Boyd are the big reservoirs. Southwest region has a jewel in Navajo Reservoir and northwest is home Elkhead Reservoir. All of these beautiful places have trout, but they also have some great smallmouth and largemouth bass and/or walleye fishing. Besides our major reservoirs, Colorado is dotted with reclaimed gravel quarries, most commonly along the various river corridors. These are home to tons of bass, panfish and catfish.
So why am I bringing this up? Because if you’re not taking advantage of some of these warm-water species, you may be surprised at what you discover. Minnesota’s state-record walleye weighs 17 pounds, 8 ounces., but is bested by more than a pound and quarter by Colorado’s 18-pound, 13-ounce record walleye. Colorado’s largemouth bass record exceeds Wisconsin’s, and 40-inch-plus pike are not rare here. Our trout-centric hatchery system produces walleye, largemouth bass, bluegills, crappie, catfish, and others right alongside the trout; you just never hear much about it. I hope to change that.
Bass are, by far, the most popular sportfish nationwide, but here in Colorado trout top most surveys. Walleye occupy the number two spot, while bass are number three. Having said that, statistically speaking most residents live closer to quality warm-water fishing than they do high-quality trout fishing. It is my lifelong goal to get more folks fishing and easy access and catching are critical to recruiting new anglers. It doesn’t get much easier than strolling down to your neighborhood park pond and catching a bunch of bluegills or bass from the bank. A great characteristic of the sunfish family – of which both bass and bluegills are members – is their love of shoreline dwelling, meaning they are often within easy casting range, boat or no boat. The sunfish family is very durable, adaptable, and they reproduce very well naturally so they don’t have to be stocked as much as trout to maintain populations. For those more used to traditional or tournament bass fishing, there are several organizations that hold derbies and even several high school and collegiate teams. Colorado Parks and Wildlife has recently recognized the desirability of quality largemouth bass fishing and are now managing some fisheries like Elkhead, Crawford, and Lon Hagler for trophy fish.
Our walleye fishing may be even more underrated than our bass. Colorado produces so many walleyes in our hatchery system that we trade some of them to other states in exchange for some other fish to stock here. We lead the country in artificially spawning walleye, and to do that we need lots and lots of breeding-size fish. Those walleyes, which incidentally are perfect eating size too, roam in very high numbers in many of our lakes. On a recent filming trip to Cherry Creek State Park, we boated more than 50 walleyes in a couple of hours of midday fishing. That is solid production regardless of which state you may fish. Here again, walleyes are accessible from the bank, especially in early spring and during low-light periods.
How about pike? Many people think you have to go to Canada to catch big pike. Nope . . . just run on over to Williams Fork, Navajo, Lathrop or Spinney; all of them are home to 40-inch-plus pike. Want to catch a bunch of pike to eat? Fine, run over to Stagecoach Reservoir and fill your cooler with two footers . . . they’re abundant, delicious and guilt-free eating.
So, yes, Colorado is home to some of the best trout fishing anywhere, making us a premier destination, but that doesn’t diminish the fact that we have other quality fishing. For those looking to step outside the trout box, you have options. . . and they’re much better options than most folks realize!
Written by Chad LaChance. LaChance owns and operates Fishful Thinker, a TV show, blog and guide service in Colorado.