Back in May, my daughter, Natalie, and I experienced our first hunt together and came away with great father-daughter memories, even if we didn’t bag a turkey as we hoped.
In July, Natalie and I went on our first real fishing trip together. Oh, we tried fishing before, but I was clueless about catching fish. This trip we knew what we were doing because we’d been taught by Colorado Parks and Wildlife experts on how to bait, cast and land fish. And CPW officers even accompanied us and coached us as we fished.
As with our turkey hunt, we again came home with great memories. Even better, this time we didn’t come away empty-handed.
Rookie Sportsperson Program
It was another great day in the Colorado outdoors, and another great “Dad moment” in the books for me, thanks to CPW’s Rookie Sportsperson Program (RSP).
Earlier this year, Natalie and I were chosen to participate in the RSP, a year-long mentorship program designed by CPW’s Southeast Region in Colorado Springs for people like us with little or no outdoor experience. The RSP teaches participants outdoor skills and, hopefully, inspires them to get outside and sample all the adventures available in Colorado’s great outdoors.
We are learning about hunting, fishing, camping, hiking and much more. We became certified in the safe handling of firearms through a Hunter Education course and have been out on a couple small-game hunts with our mentor, District Wildlife Manager (DWM) Logan Wilkins.
In July, we learned about fishing by taking the RSP’s Fishing 101 course. It was followed by a fishing trip to Lake Pueblo State Park.
My girlfriend, Jamey, joined Natalie and me for the Fishing 101 class as DWM Philip Gurule walked us through the 2019 Colorado Fishing brochure and made sure we were clear on the terms in the brochure and regulations for Lake Pueblo (see page 32, if you’re interested).
For instance, the “bag” limit refers to how many fish you catch in a day. The “possession” limit includes all the fish in your freezer at home. Gurule taught us about some of the native fish in Colorado (greenback cutthroat trout, Colorado River cutthroat trout, Rio Grande cutthroat trout), the sport fish CPW stocks for anglers (walleye and kokanee salmon, for example), and the invasive fish that CPW tries to remove from many waterways (northern pike and smallmouth bass).
Gurule also had some very clever techniques for learning to tie basic knots. Then, at the end of the class, Gurule reminded us to bring water, sunscreen and food for our trip to Lake Pueblo State Park on July 20.
Lake Pueblo State Park
Lake Pueblo State Park is the most-visited state park in Colorado with 2.4 million visitors each year, and even though the heat was pretty intense by mid-morning, there were still plenty of families hauling their fishing gear, coolers and camp chairs down to the water in the West Fishing area in the hopes of catching a fish.
CPW staff helped us get started, providing push-button Zebco reels along with worms, power bait and leeches. I was 15 years old the last time I put a leech on a hook and I had forgotten about the fun of trying to hook one of them while they’re trying to latch on to you. I finally got my leech on my hook, but my daughter gave me a little bit of grief for how long it took me.
We did our best to follow Gurule’s advice. Approach from downstream. Be aware of your shadow. Look for places in the water where fish might be taking shelter – in the shadow of a tree or behind a rock or dead tree in the water. We even switched between worms, leeches, and different kinds of power bait. But all to no avail. By mid-day, we had not caught a fish.
Luckily, Gurule brought his personal fishing boat out for the day and took groups of us out to troll. Natalie, Jamey and I went out on the water around 1 p.m. We had not caught anything from the shore, although my daughter had gotten very good at casting and Jamey had managed at one point to get a worm tangled in her hair.
On the boat, things immediately got exciting. We were using bottom bouncers with floating jig heads, trolling near the shore.
A bottom bouncer is a sinker on a piece of wire in an “L” shape. A floating jig head keeps your bait floating off the bottom of the lake (and consequently looking more like real food to a fish).
As soon as I put my worm in the water, I had a bite and ended up reeling in a 16-inch walleye. Less than 10 minutes later, Natalie caught her first walleye as well. It was the first fish she had ever caught and you can see the look of joy in her eyes in the photo I took. It was a great moment as a dad.
I also enjoyed holding these powerful fish. And I couldn’t help but think I contributed to the thriving walleye population in Lake Pueblo. In March, I came to the reservoir to help with CPW’s annual walleye spawning operations.
Walleye Spawning Operations
Each year, a team led by CPW Aquatic Biologist Carrie Tucker works for over 20 days straight, arriving at a small boathouse each day before dawn to pull nets, collect walleye, then take them to the boathouse to milk them of their milt and roe before setting more nets.
This year, the CPW team of biologists, staff and volunteers spawned 1,001 females and gathered 65.7 million eggs at Lake Pueblo. CPW also set a record March 29 when they spawned 130 females, exceeding 115 on one day in 2007. Statewide, CPW collected 126 million eggs.
CPW raised the eggs until they were big enough fry to release into Lake Pueblo a few months later, an effort I was also a part of. It was a cool feeling to hold a fish that I could have actually helped spawn back in March.
After we had been out on the water for an hour or so, the wind began to pick up and Jamey started to feel a bit of motion sickness.
“When you start getting white caps on some of these Colorado lakes and reservoirs, it can get pretty rough,” Gurule said. It was time to call it a day.
Later we learned just how right Gurule was. A severe windstorm ripped through a few hours later causing severe damage at Lake Pueblo’s North Shore Marina.
On our drive home from Lake Pueblo, Natalie, Jamey and I talked about our day. Natalie was excited to try fishing again. Maybe we’ll try fishing for trout in some of Colorado’s gold medal streams. Or we’ll fish an alpine lake.
Whatever waters we choose, we’ll do so with newfound confidence. And I won’t care if we catch anything. I just want another “Dad moment” with Natalie. I’ll never bag my limit of them!
Meanwhile, in August our RSP group will be back at Pikes Peak Gun Club preparing for the fall hunting season. We’ll also be learning all about waterfowl hunting. You can read all about it in the next installment of
The Rookie Sportsman Program is now accepting applications for the 2019 seasons. Applications are due by January 20th, 2019. To learn more, please visit the Colorado Parks and Wildlife website.
Please be advised: Program events occur in the Colorado Springs area.
“Field Notes of a Rookie Sportsperson.” Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado nearly 20 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at firstname.lastname@example.org