Colorado’s Fishing Populations are Strong

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatics section is working hard to protect fishing opportunities during the COVID-19 pandemic.
hatchery truck
Rifle Falls Fish Hatchery truck shares the message: “Your fishing license fees fund fish stocking and habitat conservation.” Thanks, anglers!

Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Aquatics section is working hard during the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure fishing opportunities are still available this coming season and beyond in Colorado.

Fish populations across the state are strong,” said Matt Nicholl, Aquatic Section Manager for CPW. “Warm water species such as post-spawn walleye are feeding well. Pre-spawn bass fishing is starting to pick up. These species can be found in many of the lower elevations reservoirs across Colorado. Cold water species such as rainbow trout and brown trout can be targeted in many of our mountain streams and reservoirs.”  

With the current health situation, CPW suggests fishing close to home and practicing social distancing while enjoying our exceptional aquatic resources.

Here’s how CPW has been handling this year’s unique situation for some of our most popular fish.

Stocking rainbow trout in Lamar

On March 19, CPW stocked more than 6,000 10-inch rainbow trout in five different lakes near Lamar (Jacksons pond, Northgate 2 and 3, Turks Pond, and Blackhole). 

loading fish into hatchery truck
Aquatics staff made the 630-mile round-trip journey from Chalk Cliffs Hatchery to Lamar to stock more than 6,000 rainbow trout. Despite the cold, snowy morning of loading fish, as soon as the truck reached Highway 50, it was blue skies all the way to Lamar.

These fish will provide excellent early season opportunities for anglers on Colorado’s eastern plains.

Utilizing Nanita Lake Cutthroat Trout for Stocking

Nanita Lake cutthroats
3-year-old Nanita Lake cutthroats during the first sort of the spawning season. The female fish full of eggs is on the right and the smaller, brightly colored male on the left. 

The Glenwood Springs Hatchery is attempting to produce at least 600,000 eyed eggs for the CPW hatchery system to utilize for stocking. Nanita Lake cutthroats are a subspecies of Colorado River cutthroat trout named for Nanita Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park, which provided the original broodstock for the hatchery. This strain of cutthroat is used extensively on Colorado’s Western Slope for high elevation recreational fish stocking. Most of the eggs from the spawn at Glenwood Springs will be stocked as fish in remote waters, some being transported in backpacks and some being stocked by airplane.

Rio Grande Cutthroat Spawn at Pitkin Hatchery

The Pitkin Hatchery is on track to take 250,000 Rio Grande cutthroat eggs this year. All of the green eggs taken from this spawn go to the Monte Vista Isolation building for hatching. The fish hatched from these eggs will be stocked in high elevation waters throughout the Rio Grande River drainage, many by airplane or backpack.

Kokanee salmon

In southwest Colorado, aquatic biologists are completing the annual release of fry kokanee salmon. 

More than three million kokanee fry from the Roaring Judy Hatchery near Gunnison were released into the East River on the night of April 14. Those fish move downstream into the Gunnison River and then to Blue Mesa Reservoir where they’ll live for three to four years. Those that survive will follow their natural instincts and return to the hatchery. 

kokanee fry
Hatchery Tech Adam Pierce holding a kokanee salmon at Roaring Judy.

On the Dolores River, 200,000 kokanee fry were released into the river the week of April 13 and will make their way about 10 miles downstream to McPhee Reservoir. They’ll also return to the release site in a few years. 

kokanee release
Kokanee salmon are dumped into the raceway before being released into the river.

Two Buttes Reservoir Fish Salvage

CPW Aquatics staff, along with Area 12 staff and several volunteers, are continuing the process of rescuing as many game fish from Two Buttes Reservoir as possible. The fish are being relocated to other waters in the area. Due to dam maintenance needs and dryer than normal conditions the water level has been dropping and is currently only about four feet deep. Fortunately, the lake did not completely freeze over in the mild 2019 – 2020 season, so the only winter-kill victims are numerous gizzard shad, which typically experience winter die-offs in some plains reservoirs in Colorado. The lake is currently open to public fish salvage, and many anglers have enjoyed the relaxed regulations.

Numerous crappie, largemouth bass, channel catfish, saugeye, and bluegill have been saved. Efforts will continue in the upcoming weeks to collect and move more of these valuable game fish as conditions allow. 

Brian with bass and walleye
District Wildlife Manager Brian Marsh in Springfield

Whirling Disease Resistant Trout in the Arkansas River

Late in February, Salida Aquatic Biologist Michael Atwood, with the help of Trout Unlimited volunteers and Mt. Shavano Fish Hatchery staff, marked 22,000 Gunnison River rainbow trout that show some resistance to whirling disease. The fish are marked by clipping the adipose fin off the fish. By marking these fish, Michael will be able to determine how many of these fish have survived and what their growth rates look like. This was the fourth consecutive year marking these fish. These fish will be stocked into the Arkansas River near Salida with the goal of developing a self-sustaining rainbow trout fishery.

inside Mt. Shavano Hatchery
Fin clipping at Mt. Shavano Fish Hatchery

Walleye spawn

Aquatic Biologist Carrie Tucker
On March 30, Area 11 Aquatic Biologist Carrie Tucker (pictured) and Aquatic Technician Tyler Hassler stocked walleye fry into Pueblo Reservoir.

Aquatic biologists and a select few volunteers spawned enough fish to supply walleye to our brood lakes (Pueblo, Cherry Creek and Chatfield reservoirs). The brood waters help maintain the valuable resources that ultimately serve as the supply chain for walleye across the state. An estimated 5.3 million fertilized eggs were collected from Lake Pueblo that were delivered to the Pueblo Fish Hatchery. Cherry Creek produced 1.2 million eggs, which were delivered to the Wray Fish Hatchery.

CPW has already stocked 3.5 million fry into Pueblo Reservoir and our hatchery section is working with other states to potentially come up with more fish to stock into our brood lakes. 

Rainbow Broodfish Stocking Across the State

Brood rainbow trout ranging in length from 14-17” have recently been stocked across the state.  Anglers in northwest Colorado can try their luck for these fish at Avery Lake, the Blue River, Corn Lake State Park, Gypsum ponds, Harvey Gap State Park, Mack Mesa Lake at Highline State Park, Old Orchard and Roan’s Pothole ponds at Island Acres State Park, Rangely Fishing Pond, Rifle Gap State Park, Rifle Pond at the Rest Area South of Rifle, and Wolford Mountain Reservoir. In southwest Colorado, waters stocked include Confluence Lake, Chipeta Lake, Pericles Pond, Shavano Pond and Uncompahgre River below Ridgway Dam.  In northeast Colorado, waters stocked include Centennial Park Pond, Waneka Lake, Arapahoe Bend Beaver Pond, and Estes Lake. In southeast Colorado, Frantz Lake and the Arkansas River were stocked.

Pueblo State Fish Hatchery

Pueblo State Fish Hatchery Manager Quentin Springer grades one of the ponds before filling with water and stocking with fish.
Pueblo State Fish Hatchery Manager Quentin Springer grades one of the ponds before filling with water and stocking with fish.

At Pueblo State Fish Hatchery, staff is flattening out the soil in the pond before filling it with water so fish don’t get stuck in the ruts caused by harrowing the pond soil. The pond soil is harrowed several times throughout the year to rejuvenate the soil and prevent rooted vegetation from taking hold. Ponds like this will be used to raise walleye, bluegill, and black crappie this year at the Pueblo State Fish Hatchery.

Las Animas Fish Hatchery

Hatchery Technician Victor Brown holding largemouth bass brooder.

Largemouth bass brooders are removed from their winter ponds in the spring. They are evaluated for size, health and sex before being placed in to spawning ponds, where spawn mats are placed for them to spawn on. The mats are removed to the hatchery building where the bass fry hatch and are then grown to 1.5-inch fingerlings before being stocked all over the state. Approximately 2 million bass will be stocked in Colorado this summer.

feeding fingerling catfish
Hatchery Technician Victor Brown feeds fingerling catfish at the Las Animas Fish Hatchery. Brown is feeding 62,000 four-inch fingerling channel catfish. Those fish and 120,000 more will be grown to 8 inches, and will be stocked in urban park ponds up and down the Front Range.

Largemouth Bass Stocking on Western Slope

Brood largemouth bass that are no longer needed at the Las Animas Fish Hatchery will be making their way to the West Slope soon. Nearly 500 adult fish ranging from 10-16” in length will be stocked in waters in both northwest and southwest Colorado. In northwest Colorado, anglers will be able to enjoy these fish at Elkhead State Park (west of Hayden) and Harvey Gap State Park (north of Silt). Southwest waters stocked include Crawford Reservoir, Pastorius Reservoir, Home Lake and Blanca Vista Pond.

Note: All of the photos above were taken prior to the April 4 order by Gov. Jared Polis to wear cloth masks in public.


Travis Duncan is a public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife in Denver. Travis has lived in Colorado for 17 years and loves the outdoors. If you have a question, please email him at travis.duncan@state.co.us

2 Responses

  1. While watching “The Underwater World of Trout” 2. the adipose fin is critical in controlling a fish’s movement in current. Is there an underwater video of these fish that have had their adipose fins removed for comparison. Who decides this fin is nonessential ? Any comment ?

    1. From Josh Nehring, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Senior Aquatic Biologist:

      “The clipping of adipose fins of fish as a marking technique has a long history and is probably the most common forms of marking fish. However, it is not to say that the adipose fin is non-essential. Compared to other fins it is probably the least impactful on the fish. As you suggest, there are some studies that show the adipose fin helps the fish maintain itself, especially in rough turbulent waters. Other scientists have suggested that the adipose fin may play a role in reproduction as it relates to choosing a mate, especially in brown trout. During spawning the adipose fin of some male brown trout turn more of a reddish-orange color which may be attractive to females. In order to track the success of our rainbow trout introduction, we felt this technique of clipping the adipose fin was the most economical and most efficient way to do so.”

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