Ranking Colorado's Walleye Waters
Guest Blog by: Ben Swigle 5/8/2013
In Colorado, roughly 80% of the state's precipitation falls on the West Slope, however 80% of our state’s growing population lives along the East Slope, between Fort Collins and Pueblo. In order to meet consumer needs, water from the Colorado River is diverted through the continental divide into reservoirs on the East Slope. Horsetooth and Carter Reservoirs store the lion’s share of water for residents in NE Colorado while simultaneously accommodating a variety of recreational activities.
For example, 49,952 boats launched at Horsetooth and Carter during the 2012 season with the vast majority of visitors residing in Larimer County. Boat anglers at Horsetooth and Carter primarily target walleye (smallmouth bass fishing at Horsetooth is a close second). Walleye, largely considered to have the best tasting flesh of any freshwater fish, find the particular habitat in each of the reservoirs quite suitable. So much so, that Carter and Horsetooth represent the only waters in Colorado where natural reproduction exclusively supports the population and appreciable angler harvest.
The fish manager at Horsetooth Reservoir, Kurt Davies, sampled 24 walleye per net during 2012 which ranked as the 2nd greatest relative abundance among sampling years dating back to 1975. Walleye at Horsetooth averaged a modest 15 inches in length and weighed slightly more than one pound. Further south at Carter Reservoir, 18 walleye per net were surveyed with the average fish measuring 17 inches. Walleye in Carter (I’m convinced the next state record currently swims here) are typically larger than the Horsetooth crop simply because they have a few more fish sticks to consume.
Pueblo Reservoir, the primary water storage facility along the Southern Front Range, topped this year list of best walleye fisheries in Colorado. A robust population of gizzard shad supports the toothy walleye predators.
Striking the right balance between angler harvest and forage fish availability is the leading factor in the creation of Colorado’s premier walleye fisheries at Pueblo, Horsetooth, Carter....just to name a few.
The limit for walleye at Horsetooth is very straight forward; 5 fish of any size. A special regulation at Carter limits harvest to 3 walleye, all of which must measure less than 21 inches. The Carter regulation provides anglers with the best possible chance to catch and photograph a trophy walleye while concurrently providing Colorado Parks and Wildlife with a location to efficiently collect walleye eggs when other spawning operations do not meet the requested stocking demand for this species.
Special regulations at Pueblo Reservoir are also in place: Minimum size for walleye is 18 inches, bag and possession limit is 5.
Given the drought our state is currently plagued with, the window for solid walleye fishing may close quickly. Here are my top ten best destinations for walleye fishing in Colorado for 2013. The number following each reservoir corresponds to the number of walleye/saugeye surveyed, standardized by the number of fish caught per overnight gillnet set. This year’s top waters are:
1. Pueblo Reservoir (27)
2. Horsetooth Reservoir (25)
3. Jumbo Reservoir (23)
4. McIntosh Reservoir (22)
5. Chatfield Reservoir (20)
6. Carter Lake (18)
7. Prewitt Reservoir (17)
8. Boyd Lake (16)
9. Lonetree Reservoir (16)
Honorable mention and other notes:
Cherry Creek Reservoir – Undoubtedly Cherry Creek would have figured into this list but the timing of the 2012 survey was outside the range where we generally set the fall nets. The “early” set at Cherry Creek found only 9 walleye per net but more than 2,200 walleye over 16 inches were handled during the 2013 spawn.
Jackson Reservoir would have topped this list with 47 walleye/saugeye per net collected during the 2011 survey but low water precluded launching a boat during Fall 2012. Jackson should be solid this year for walleye and saugeye.
Bear Creek Reservoir – A 2008 survey yielded 15 saugeye per net.
Horseshoe Reservoir – Solid numbers of pure sauger were collected during the 2012 survey (19 per net) but I did not put this water in the mix because of the particular species.
John Martin Reservoir – This SE reservoir was negatively impacted by the drought, the numbers of walleye/saugeye fell by 80% compared to the 2011 survey. However, white bass numbers remain the highest in the state.
North Sterling Reservoir – The fall survey netted only 6 walleye per net. A partial fish killed reduced the number but plenty of wiper remain active. In addition, more than 10,000 catchable rainbow trout have been stocked in the past 6 weeks. Millions of walleye have also been restocked.
Ben Swigle is an aquatic biologist with Colorado Parks and Wildlife stationed out of the Fort Collins office. Ben holds a BS in biology from the University of Notre Dame and a MS in fisheries science from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. After working 2 years as a fishery biologist with the USGS in Oregon, he joined Parks and Wildlife in 2005. Ben specifically manages lakes, reservoirs, and streams within the Big Thompson, St. Vrain, and Boulder Creek watersheds.
Blog content © Ben Swigle
Tiny Stevens, CO 5/8/2013 1:07:11 PM
Excellant write up Ben! Amazing numbers when you look at it! Are the special regs for 3 walleyes at both Chatfield and Cherry Creek then due to angler pressure and trying to maintain the balance between stocking and keeping, or are there other factors at work?
It is a pleasure to see your blogs here, thank you very much for your contributions!
koko, CO 5/8/2013 2:25:27 PM
Great blog Ben! Definitely surprised at where CC came in on this list! Thanks for your hard work!
FISHRANGLER, CO 5/8/2013 3:02:43 PM
My question is how can Carter have a state record if you have to release all fish under 21 inches? Just asking.
Sean D, CO 5/8/2013 4:36:44 PM
@Fishrangler, you have to release all fish 21 inches and over...not under.
Ben, good list, interesting way of looking at it, but it gives a scientific perspective.
Ben Swigle (Swigs), CO 5/8/2013 4:53:27 PM
Sean D is correct, this is a maximum size restriction. All fish over 21 must go back. The state record would be a released fish with photographic documentation.
cookster, CO 5/8/2013 6:00:13 PM
Great blog. Was the lake rules or process for the state record diffent in 1997?
IceFishingFool, CO 5/8/2013 6:17:38 PM
Very good Ben, Fishrangler have me doing a double take too!
Ben Swigle (Swigs), CO 5/8/2013 6:58:00 PM
Here is the link to fish records by length (released fish). The current record for walleye is 33.5, from Cherry Creek.
The 1997 walleye record was a fish that was kept that measured 34" and 18+ lbs. To get the state record by weight it would need to be kept and weighed on a certified scale. Thus, the record for Carter could only be by length.
CNR Walleye, CO 5/9/2013 10:05:03 AM
Thanks for the information and thanks for everything you do. The one thing I wished carter had was more enforcement on the regulations I can count numerous times when talking to other fisherman who don't know the regulation on carter while on the lake. I've heard from other fisherman even at Bennett's tackle about fisherman keeping fish over 21 inches. Can you talk to the larimer county rangers about that? Back in the day you would get checked often last year I was never checked. I would say most fisherman don't mind being checked if its for the better of the fishery. Thanks Ben
FISHRANGLER, CO 5/9/2013 10:26:03 AM
Yeah I typed that wrong but you knew what i was asking. Thanks Ben. Doesn't Carter have a rule were, all walleye over 21 must be released Immediately? This would not allow for the time to record or even take pictures IMO Is that is how that rule is written?
CNR Walleye, CO 5/9/2013 1:25:19 PM
By saying immediately its saying not putting a fish in the livewell or dragging it across the lake for a measurement. You can still take a picture get measurements but still must release the fish immediately. Pretty hard to read that.
Ben Swigle (Swigs), CO 5/9/2013 5:57:14 PM
CNR, I can pass along your concerns to Larimer county. It is disapointing folks don't bother to read the large walleye sign immediately next to the boat launch and inspection station or the regulation brochure.
CYObrad, CO 5/9/2013 10:13:00 PM
Great blog! This is the info people want to have.
JKaboom, CO 5/15/2013 5:12:42 PM
Great Write up - you give a lot of insight into all the statistical reports in you BLOGs :)
Neyet Stalker, CO 5/19/2013 6:22:42 PM
Bottom Line we have some World Class Walleye Fishing around here!! Thanks to all of those that make it possible!!! Thanks for sharing the information, the stats are good to know!