Harvey Shade has fished John Martin Reservoir for years. In that time, Shade has caught plenty of fish, but none measured up to the one he caught on May 6, 2017.
Shade, 64, who resides in Eads, now holds the state record for the biggest striped bass in Colorado: The fish tipped the scales at 29 pounds, 5 ounces and measured 39 inches long. The football-shaped bass also boasted an impressive 25.5-inch girth.
Shade’s striped bass, commonly known as a striper, bested the previous record by a whopping 13 pounds. The last record striper, caught in 2016 from Prewitt Reservoir, weighed 16 pounds, 14 ounces and measured 35 3/8 inches long.
“I knew I had a big fish as soon as he hit,” Shade said. “He ran hard and about emptied my reel.”
Shade was fishing from shore in the stilling basin (spillway) below John Martin Dam. He used a nightcrawler and was fishing for catfish when the huge striper gobbled-up the worm.
With his rod rigged with 20-pound braided line, Shade fought the fish for around 15 minutes before netting it.
“I had a net about half big enough to get him,” Shade said. “I swooped it over the best I could once I got the fish next to shore.”
Shade took his fish to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for an official weigh-in and measurement. CPW Aquatic Biologist Jim Ramsay confirmed the species of the fish and verified that it had set the new state record.
“This fish had the markings of a striper but had the body shape of a wiper (a cross between a striped bass and white bass),” said Ramsay. “We took some time to study the fish to confirm that this was a true striped bass and not a hybrid, as well as get official size and weight measurements for our record books.”
CPW stocked John Martin Reservoir with striped bass in 2007 and 2008. Because the reservoir lacks suitable habitat for natural reproduction, the only stripers that remain in John Martin are those that were stocked nearly a decade ago. Ramsay says that, since then, some of the stripers, including Shade’s record-sized fish, have escaped the reservoir and have entered the river below the dam.
“Each year, we have irrigation releases from the reservoir which push some fish into the Arkansas River and surrounding irrigation systems,” Ramsay said. “In 2016, a farmer brought in a 24-pound striper he had found in his irrigation canal. Now, this 29-pound behemoth was caught from the same river system. It stands to reason that other stripers, similar to these giants, may be lurking in the same areas.”
John Martin is noted for producing large fish. In 2015, the reservoir yielded the state-record flathead catfish. The 27-pound cat, caught by Tony Chavez, was also taken from the stilling basin area below the dam.
A Variety of Warm-water Sport Fish
In addition to harboring state-record stripers and catfish in its spillway, John Martin Reservoir boasts a variety of other warm-water sport fish and an abundant population of gizzard shad — a winning combination for anglers who want to try their luck at the main reservoir.
“John Martin is home to a great population of catfish, white bass and wipers,” said Ramsay. “There’s also an excellent population of shad throughout the reservoir, which provides a sustainable forage base for the large bass and wipers. You may not catch the next state record here, but you can usually enjoy some excellent fishing most times of the year.”
For Shade, he plans to have his record striper mounted.
“The fish is already at the taxidermist,” said Shade.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife tracks fish records by weight in 46 different species categories. Potential record-holders must have a valid Colorado fishing license or be under the age of 16. The fish in question must be weighed on a state-certified scale, and a weight receipt must be signed by a person who witnessed the weighing. The fish, before being frozen, gutted or altered in any way, must be examined and identified by a CPW biologist or district wildlife manager before an application is submitted.
Written by Jerry Neal. Neal is the editor of Colorado Outdoors Online and is a media specialist and videographer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. He is a Colorado native, an avid angler, hunter and outdoorsman.