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Pond Hopping & St. Vrain State Park

by: Matt Snider 3/13/2018
Last week I spent a fair bit of time pond hopping around the northern front range of Colorado.  I went for walks, took a rod some of the time, snapped some photos, did some lake and river updates, and got to know a few places that were new to me.  For early spring fishing, small and often shallow ponds can offer some great opportunities for success, especially when the sun has been warming them up quickly with the recent weather trends.

Most of the ponds have looked a bit lifeless.  Every once in a while I’d run across some carp sleep walking among the shallows, or some bluegill taking their all-point-one-direction-and-hover formation.  But for the most part things looked bleak.  I love sight-fishing carp on the fly, but these jaunts weren’t doing much to scratch that itch.  I’d blind cast now and again, catching some stocker trout and some panfish, but the carp were just not that active.  And what little casting I did was only producing erratic success.

I just wish I could see what is going on and where the fish are congregating in these ponds this early in the season.  Well, that wish was fulfilled to a degree.  

This weekend, Saturday March 17 at 9am to be exact, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is hosting a free event at St. Vrain State Park.  If you visit the “St. Vrain Experience” you will discover numerous demonstrations and instructional sessions hosted by local experts, ranging from fly-casting to fish-cooking to boat safety.  And, my favorite, you will find a huge display tank featuring fish that reside in the St. Vrain State Park ponds.  

In all the years I’ve been exploring local waters big and small, I’ve never set foot in St. Vrain State Park, located walking distance from exit 240 on I-25.  But when CPW aquatic biologist Ben Swigle invited me to join them to help collect fish for the event's display tank, I jumped at the chance.

As we navigated the shorelines of a few of the ponds in the CPW boat with electrodes dangling in the water in hopes of stunning fish for netting, what I’ve seen fishing local ponds recently was confirmed.  With net in hand, we boated shorelines and shallows looking for fish.  And those fish came slowly.  We ran across many sections which you think would hold fish and at this time of year they just didn’t.  Then we’d run across a pocket that held several.  

We ran across, as you’d expect, many panfish – bluegill, crappie, etc. – a fair number of large common carp, and hundreds of stocker trout.  They were not scattered among all shorelines, just schooled up in certain areas with no clearly evident reason.  Perhaps, I thought, one side of the ponds would be warmer than others based on sun or prevailing winds, and we could put together a pattern.  It sure didn’t seem that way. We also ran across thousands of shad in one pond, and I was amazed at what else we ran across.

In these unassuming ponds, we netted a very nice and fat saugeye and one of the better largemouth bass I’ve seen in the area.   The saugeye, which I didn’t get a photograph of, would’ve probably measured in the mid-to-upper 20 inch range and 5 or more pounds (I am guessing here, but believe me if you caught it out of these ponds you’d be ecstatic).  It is a fish I’d just not expect to see out of St. Vrain ponds.  Then we ran across several largemouth bass (again, all in one general location) and I was surprised by their size.  It wasn’t until later when I snapped a photo, I realized the girth and length of the largest we found.  The photo is below, and it perhaps doesn’t do the fish justice, but believe me it was noticeably larger than what I would consider a “good Colorado bass.” 

All the fish went into an aerated tank on the boat, then were transferred to a holding pen in a pond.  They’ll be transferred to the CPW display tank this Saturday for you to peruse yourself, and I assume placed back into the ponds for you to catch later.  I love doing these trips, each of which opens my eyes to the sorts of fish in our lakes that continually evade my hooks.  It gives me hope, and hopefully you too, that there are indeed large fish in most every body of water for you to find.  Sure it can be frustrating too to see the fish you seemingly cannot catch, but believe me they are there and they are to be had.  You just need to put in the time.

I stuck around a little while longer to walk some of the ponds and fish, mostly looking for carp.  I blind casted a handful of times, landing primarily crappie and stocker trout.  Had I not just witnessed what swims in these ponds first-hand, I would've been discouraged.

My singular advice to you pond-hoppers out there…those of you that throw a rod in your car for a quick trip on the way home from work or on a lunch break, or those that make an entire day of it… when you fish ponds like these this time of year, move and move a lot.  Work the shorelines, look hard at corners, hard-to-reach areas, and any kind of structure you can find, and work them all efficiently.  If you’re not catching fish, there’s a good chance they’re just not there.  So move.  And lastly, you may become bored or disenchanted with small fish or stocker rainbows you continuously hook, but if you keep at it you may just hook into a big fish worthy of bigger places.  They are there, just keep fishing.
Ben setting up the boatNetting stunned fishReally nice sized largemouth bass
The biggest bass of the day.Caught several of these catchable-sized trout later 
Blog content © Matt Snider
Member comments
OldMikkDale, CO   3/13/2018 6:03:53 PM
Thanks for the info, I will check and see if they need any volunteers.
bron, CO   3/13/2018 6:20:07 PM
Nice read Matt! Ive often wondered what the fish are up to this time of year when you see no activity. I always pictured them spread out in deep spots across the bottom. This gives some insight.
Swigs, CO   3/13/2018 8:23:49 PM
Thanks for posting, indeed some big LMBs!
Flyrodn, CO   3/14/2018 11:47:07 AM
I'm always surprised at some of the fish that exist in small ponds. St. Vrain has be a quick stop for me traveling to and from Denver. CPW has done wonders with that area, compared to 20 years ago.
opencage, CO   3/16/2018 8:37:45 AM
I think I'll be taking the boys to this tomorrow morning. Hope to see some of you there!
bigbear57, CO   3/17/2018 10:37:08 PM
The bass in the third pic looks familiar. All the bass I caught last year in bald eagle were emaciated, also the sunfish population was almost non-existent. A few years ago I used to catch largemouth up to 22" and they were extremely health beautiful specimens, and their was a huge sunfish population in the 4" size range. Also the water condition and clarity have gone down hill as well. This lake needs some help or the bass and what's left of the forage will not make it much longer. I'm not sure exactly what has changed, but if you know Ben he will know. P.S. Fin condition also looks poor
bluecollarguy, CO   3/18/2018 12:39:32 AM
That was my thought on that fish as well, in terrible shape. The flood really did a number on ponds that had strong vegetation cover and it looks like those fisheries may never be the same. I wish there was a way to target rooted vegetation restoration or introduction but most just shake their head when it's brought up for conversation.
J.P. Davis, CO   3/19/2018 11:43:15 AM
Live in Lakewood...What is the status for rainbow , from the bank ??? Please get back. in Lakewood J.P.
ass bass or cash, CO   3/19/2018 3:42:15 PM
I didn't make it out Saturday, how was the event? Good turnout?
Matt Snider
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