I’m generally an opportunist when it comes to fishing -- I frequently fish for what’s biting. I use the term ‘fish’ in the broadest sense. If it swims in water, has gills, and scales, I like the idea of catching it. There are a lot of fish species, by one count over 32,000 worldwide, more species than the number of fish many people will catch in a lifetime. Closer to home, there are over 700 freshwater species in North America, and over 100 of those exist in Colorado. Many species are not readily taken by hook and line for any number of reasons. Either they don’t get big enough to be of interest to anglers, such as shiners, or their feeding habits are such that anglers don’t often encounter them, suckers on the fly, for example.
Still, that leaves a lot of fish that a fisher might reasonably expect to encounter in Colorado. To start with there are 44 master angler species -- fish that Colorado Parks and Wildlife recognize and honor anglers with a certificate of recognition if they catch one sufficiently large. The number of fish an angler might catch in Colorado is larger than that, as I have caught a number of shad, shiners, sculpin, chubs, and suckers over the years, species that aren’t on the master angler list. Yep, that’s a lot of opportunities to catch something on any given day.
However, the reality is, I, like many anglers, focus on a very limited number of game fish that are readily available, such as walleye, perch, sunfish, black bass, white bass, trout, and a couple others on occasion.
As the waters up and down the Front Range have cooled, trout have become increasingly active and many of the warm water species a bit more tight-lipped. Plus, many of the area waters have been stocked with trout.
Two waters I’ve fished recently are Lon Hagler and Douglas. Both waters are open to wakeless boating right up to ice-up and they have a good mix of fish species, allowing one to fish for several species in one place. Lon Hagler fished well and we landed a number of crappie, bass, and trout, but the second day out, Douglas proved to be the real surprise.
Arriving at the boat ramp, we couldn’t help but notice we were the only boat and that there were few anglers. Not a good sign. In contrast, there were hundreds of seagulls on the reservoir and many were feeding. Once on the water, we motored over to the birds and realized they were picking up a fish now and then. This happens every fall, bait fish like shad get stunned by the drop in water temperatures and rise to the surface where they’re easy targets for the birds.
We continued north, all the way up the inlet, where we found a small amount of water running providing a light current, something that often attracts fish. Further, there were huge schools of bait, shad and shiners, in places. They were so thick I couldn’t retrieve a fly through them without foul hooking one, so we fished near the bait, not through them. While we started out fishing for crappie and bass, what we found were large numbers of trout actively feeding on the bait fish. As I said, I’m an opportunist, so Bill and I essentially parked in the area and caught good numbers of very fat trout.
Now is the time to take advantage of the opportunity to enjoy some great trout fishing on local waters, such as Douglas, Lon Hagler, Carter, Boyd, and Horsetooth before the ice sets in.
This piece first appeared in the Fort Collins Coloradoan, November 17, 2013 Explorer section.