Article & Photos by Scott Willoughby
Floating a scenic slice of the Arkansas River through Browns Canyon. Photo by © Scott Willoughby.
When it comes to their favorite places to wet a line, fishermen are pretty tight-lipped by nature. So it comes as no surprise that the one-year anniversary of the designation of Browns Canyon National Monument came and went last February with little fanfare among Colorado’s angling community.
Besides, nothing has really changed along the scenic slice of the Arkansas River that qualifies among the nation’s premier public trout fisheries. And that’s precisely the point.
“I grew up in big, wide-open spaces in Nevada, and there’s been enormous change to the landscapes — transmission lines, oil and gas coming in, major hard-rock mines and other projects,” U.S. Bureau of Land Management (BLM) director Neil Kornze said while rafting through the newly minted monument last July. “So I love it when I see a community come together and say: ‘Let’s not just trust that this will always be the way we love it. Let’s do something about it.’ It’s not necessarily about changing something in a dramatic way. Sometimes it’s about keeping what you’ve got and what you love.” Read more
Article & Photos By Scott Willoughby
Jon Becker mans the oars of a drift boat. Photo by © Scott Willoughby
Just on the outskirts of the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe” at the riverside community known as Rancho Del Rio, the light grows dim and the bats begin their evening swirl. In a moment, the Colorado River begins to boil like a bubbling cauldron of fish. Then the big bang hits. m “There he is,” oarsman Jon Becker booms from the cockpit of his Hyde drift boat. “Nice fish!”
The hardy brown trout turns out to be the nicest among a steady string of “nice fish,” it’s girth amplified by the cloak of twilight yet easily overshadowing others landed and released throughout the afternoon. There’s no measuring tape to verify the size, yet no reason to suspect the fish is anything less than the 18-inch guesstimate of an optimistic angler’s imagination. Read more
DID YOU KNOW? Fishing in Colorado contributes roughly $1.9 billion to the economy. Become an angler today and be an active participant in wildlife management and help our local economies. Photo by © Wayne D. Lewis/CPW
Why Learn to Fly Fish?
Fly fisherman by © Howard Horton/CPW
When most people think of fishing in Colorado, fly fishing is one of the first techniques that come to mind. Like all types of fishing, it can be a fun group or family activity or it can be your way to find peace and tranquility — an escape from our busy lives.
Learning to fly fish does not have to be intimidating, difficult or expensive. There are lots of opportunites for classes with Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW), local fly shops and fly-fishing organizations around Colorado.
People in Colorado love to fish. Colorado sells more than 900,000 fishing licenses each year! There are so many fishing choices in Colorado with 9,500 miles of streams 2,000 natural lakes and 800 reservoirs. Your new favorite fishing spot may be just around the corner. Read more
A reproduction brook trout created by Colorado taxidermist Jeff Mourning. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
Marvin Gaye once sang, “Ain’t nothing like the real thing.” For most things in life, he was spot on (pleather, tofurkey and sugar substitutes immediately come to mind). But, when it comes to fish taxidermy, artificial mounts, called reproductions or “replicas,” are even better than the real thing. And they are the only real option for anglers who want to practice catch and release and have a trophy fish to hang on the wall of their office or den.
Replica fish-mounts are made from gel-coat resin and fiberglass. They are are completely artificial — no actual fish parts are used in their creation. However, to ensure the most accurate reproductions possible, replicas are forged from molds cast from real fish. A donor fish of a specific species and size is used to generate numerous fiberglass blanks, which are then sold to taxidermists. Blanks have no markings or color, hence the name. Therefore, a taxidermist or “fish artist” must entirely design and paint a fish onto the empty pallet, using only photos as references for the finished design.
Traditionally, an angler who wanted a wall-mounted fish had to keep his/her catch and provide the entire specimen to a taxidermist. A taxidermist would then skin the fish and stretch the skin over a Styrofoam mannequin to create a lifelike mount. These days, thanks to fiberglass replicas, anglers can preserve their fishing memories and conserve the fishery resource at the same time. Read more
A cutthroat trout. Photo by Kevin Rogers/CPW.
Colorado is truly an angler’s paradise. Home to more than 9,000 miles of rivers, 2,000 natural lakes and hundreds of gin-clear streams, it’s as if Mother Nature had fishing in mind when she created this beautiful state. And with waters generously dispersed from the high mountains all the way to the Eastern Plains, Colorado’s fishing opportunities are as diverse as the Rocky Mountain landscape.
Yet, in spite of the variety of fishable waters and abundance of natural habitat, it’s only because of the dedicated conservation work of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s (CPW) aquatic biologists and hatchery technicians that Colorado boasts some of the best fishing in the nation.
Whether you’re an avid angler or just someone who enjoys the occasional weekend fishing trip, here are 11 “Fish Facts” that you should know about Colorado’s fisheries: Read more
A fly-and-bubble angler fishes in Pearl Lake State Park.
It’s not often that someone hates the title of your story before you write it, but that is the case with this piece. Last fall, while fishing with a good buddy (who prefers to remain nameless) we were discussing the merits of the angling method we’d been using for the last few trout-fishing expeditions — fly and bubble. He really liked how far he could throw a fly when the bubble was filled more than halfway with water which got me thinking. “Throwing Bubbles — that’s what I’ll call my article,” I said.
My enthusiasm was met with much manly scorn. And he had a good point. Something that can, at times, be brutally effective shouldn’t be described so frivolously. But it’s my title, and I’m sticking with it.
Many people, like my buddy and I, can only afford so much equipment and devote only so much time to their recreational endeavors. Learning how to fly fish, and getting geared up to do so, is out of the question for many spin anglers. But when the fish are ignoring spoons and spinners, and hitting flies instead, then something must be done to level the playing field. Read more
Nathan Czapran shows off a rainbow trout from the Stagecoach tailwaters. This area is best known for its population of big rainbows. Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
Colorado is famous for its world-class fly fishing and variety of amazing tailwaters. Although not as well known as the acclaimed tailwater stretches of the South Platte, Frying Pan or Blue rivers, the Yampa River below Stagecoach Reservoir is a hidden gem that offers exceptional trout fishing.
Located just 20 miles from Steamboat Springs, the tailwaters below Stagecoach Reservoir Dam feature prime fly-fishing water. Comprised of short riffle runs, pools and pockets, this 0.6-mile stretch of the Yampa River provides near perfect trout habitat. The cold water that plunges out of the bottom of Stagecoach Dam also brings a steady, year-round flow of nutrients and aquatic insects that keeps the fish fat and sassy. Read more
Early spring is a great time of year to catch lake trout (Mackinaw). Photo by Jerry Neal/CPW.
If you’re a fisherman, there’s no better time to fish Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs than early spring. Not only is it a great time of year to shake off your cabin fever, but many trophy sized rainbow, cutthroat, cutbow and brown trout are caught in those first days and weeks after ice-out. If those weren’t enough reasons to make you want to grab your fishing rod and tackle box, spring is also prime-time to catch lake trout (aka Mackinaw) — a species that can reach upwards of 50 pounds.
Although many of Colorado’s lakes and reservoirs offer excellent fishing, the following waters provide exceptional fishing opportunities this spring:
NOTE: Some of these locations have slot limits and catch-and-release restrictions. Be sure to read the Colorado Fishing Regulations brochure before fishing any of these waters. Depending on weather conditions, ice-melt varies at high-altitude lakes and reservoirs. Call Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s area offices for the latest conditions. Always play it safe and never venture out on late-season ice.
Delaney Buttes Lakes
Caryn Feil displays a Delaney Buttes brown trout.
Nestled in the sagebrush flats of North Park, 10 miles west of Walden, the Delaney Buttes State Wildlife Area is a sure bet for ice-out trout. The area consists of three separate lakes—North Delaney, South Delaney and East Delaney. The south and east lakes boast large rainbows, Snake River cutthroat and hybrid cutbows. North Delaney, the largest of the three lakes, is managed as a trophy brown trout fishery. It’s the most challenging of the three lakes to fish and can humble even the most skilled anglers. However, the rewards can be great for those willing to put in the time and dedication. Bruiser browns in the double-digit weight class roam this Gold Medal Water. All three Delaney Buttes Lakes are restricted to fishing with flies and lures only. Woolly Buggers, olive scuds and chironomids are excellent fly choices here. Kastmasters and Rapalas (in various colors) and crayfish imitation jigs/lures are always good bets to tempt North Delaney’s browns. Read more
Rainbow trout ready for the grill. All photos by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.
I’ve long thought, and it’s highly unlikely that I am alone in the thought, that bananas are the perfect food. They come in easy-to-carry bundles, are individually wrapped, with the biodegradable wrapper giving an extremely accurate and up-to-date report of the condition of the nutritious goodness within. But for the omnivore, carnivore or pescavore, what food comes close to the banana’s perfection?
My vote is for trout.
And I’m talking fresh-caught trout, not the store-bought kind. Not that there is anything particularly wrong with store-bought fish, but when you catch them you get the satisfaction of knowing freshness, and going fishing and bringing trout to the net is far more enjoyable than the bumper-cart madness of the grocery store. In addition, a stringer of rainbows, browns, brookies and/or cutthroats is much more satisfying to carry than a bunch of bananas. Once caught, trout are almost as easy to clean for the grill as bananas are to peel. Bass, bluegill, crappie, etc. are all delicious, but filleting them (for me anyway) is a far more arduous task. For years, I’ve released every fish I caught back to the water, but some tasty meals over the last year or so have me thinking, “the heck with catch and release, fish are for eating.” Read more
A Colorado road trip can transport the driver to some remarkable fishing. All photos by Wayne D. Lewis/CPW.
“It was the best 17-hundred bucks I ever spent,” was my last response to the guy filling up his Subaru across the island at a Silverthorn gas station. We were wrapping up a quick chat about my 1991 Mazda Miata, which had gone something like this:
Subaru guy: “Nice car, do you like it?”
Me: “Yep, it’s a blast.”
SG: “Is it fast?”
Me: “Not really, but fun in the corners. And even legal speeds are much more fun with the top down.”
SG: “So more of a tourer? My dad had an old RX-7. It was a great touring car.”
Me: “Yeah, it’s like that. As they say, it’s better to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow. It was the best 17-hundred bucks I ever spent.” Read more