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Old waters, change tactics for success

Blog by: David Coulson , Colorado 5/11/2018

Sue and I are finally on the road, sort of, in that our first “long” road trip has brought us back to Northern Colorado,  We’re currently camping at Horsetooth Reservoir, a water that I’m been fishing for the last twenty or so years. 

You’d think after all those years that I’d have it dialed in and catching would be a given, especially for the plentiful smallmouth bass. Bass aren’t the only species that anglers target in these waters, walleye, trout, yellow perch, bluegill, carp, white bass, and crappie are known to show up at the end of the line regularly.

This last week I fished the reservoir three days running.  While I’ve caught a few bass every time, only the last day was a banner day.  The first two outings had me wondering if I was fishing the reservoir for the first time. There’s a certain amount of truth to the idea that was fishing new water..  Last year, Horsetooth was completely full around this time, this year it’s down 18 feet from capacity.  The fish are there, but the reservoir has a totally different look and fishes different.

Day one I worked the bay that produced good numbers of bass, crappie, gills, and yellow perch the year prior. Last year it was a shoreline with trees, brush, and rocks, whereas it is now primarily a mud bowl with few obvious structural element.  I worked a number of areas, looking for structural items, changes in depth, and transitions.  There may have been fish present, but you couldn’t prove it by me. 

Not to be deterred I worked past the boat ramps to an area of riprap. There I managed a couple of smallmouth on minnow patterns before I called it a day. Those two fish had me thinking I’d figured things out.

Day two, I returned to the previous day’s ending spot thinking I had it worked out from the priors day’s fishing.  A few casts in and I caught my first fish of the day.  Yep, I had it pegged.  Unfortunately the fish didn’t agree and that was the only fish in an hour’s fishing. 

I noticed a number of dead “bait” fish drifting by on the surface.  The one I managed to scoop up near shore turned out to be a rainbow smelt. It seemed strange to see that many dead fish and no action.  The bass I’d caught had coughed up fish. So it seemed likely to me that the bass were feeding heavily on smelt, just not where I was fishing. That prompted me to move upwind along the bank to a spot that was windblown and no dead smelt. That was the ticket and in the next hour, I caught numerous smallmouths.

Day three, four of us opted to fish one of the coves from float tubes.  Based on the prior two days I figured the bass would be chasing smelt and a floating line and streamers would produce.  In the first hour I managed a couple/three fish, but nothing like the prior day.  None of the bass coughed up anything and I noticed the belly of one fish was speckled with mud spots, indicating it had been rooting in the mud for its meals.

Switching to a sinking line I started “dredging” my flies along the bottom.  That was the ticket.  Good numbers of fish came to the net, including three pushing 17-18 inches.  My fellow anglers had similar experiences when they also switched over to sinking lines and weighted flies.

The point is simple, no matter how many years you’ve fished an area you can’t rely solely on past experiences to ensure success.  Conditions are constantly changing and so must your tactics if you hope to be successful.

First published by

Rainbow smelt found floating near shoreDouble day two from shoreOne of the nicer smallies, 17-18 inches
Blog content © David Coulson