Steamboat Springs Steamboat Lake State Park has gained national recognition for the beauty of its campgrounds. And it's an obvious destination for trout fishermen in Northwest Colorado. What people may not realize is that the impoundment 30 miles northwest of Steamboat Springs has become the repository of thousands of "extra" fingerling trout that could produce a fishing bonanza for several years to come.
Steamboat Lake, actually a reservoir, is situated in a high elevation bowl that ensures it receives an ample supply of water even during the period of drought that has dominated the Colorado fishing scene over the last two years. Bill Atkinson, the Colorado Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist for this region, said that fact has netted more fish for Steamboat Lake than it would have normally received.
Trout scheduled for stocking in other waters had to be diverted to Steamboat Lake last summer because the other reservoirs were dangerously low, Atkinson said.
The lake received more than 2,200 Snake River cutthroats on June 11, 2002, according to Atkinson's records.
"Snake River cuts grow very fast," Atkinson emphasized.
The next stocking shipment arrived on June 17, 2002, when 100,000 fingerlings from the Eagle Lake strain of rainbows were spilled into the lake. Another 100,000 'bows arrived on July 2. Those juvenile trout ranged in size between 2 inches and 2.7 inches. That means they won't be ready to catch this summer, but the lake had a healthy population of trout to begin with, and the prospects are only getting better.
The lake received another 60,000 slightly larger fish later in July, Atkinson said.
That makes Steamboat Lake a great destination for families with youngsters hoping to catch their first Rocky Mountain trout. Bank fishing near any of the several stream inlets on the southwest side of the lake should produce results. But rental canoes and motorboats are available at the marina.
Spinners and bait work well at Steamboat Lake. Most evenings and mornings, a fly fisherman needs but two patterns, woolly buggers to imitate the minnows and crayfish that the trout feast on and damselfly nymphs.
A daily parks pass at Steamboat lake costs $5.
Families visiting Steamboat Lake in early June might want to drive a short distance beyond Steamboat Lake to Hahn's Peak Lake, a U.S. Forest Service fee area. Hahn's Peak Lake is much smaller than Steamboat Lake, but Atkinson said it will be stocked with 5,000 "catch-able" 10-inch rainbows in June. Keep in mind that the daily bag limit at both lakes is four fish and anglers may have no more than eight fish in their possession.
Much closer to Steamboat Springs, Dumont Lake on Rabbit Ears Pass is a great spot for an evening picnic and fishing session. The Dumont area is also one of the best spots in the area for wildflower viewing -- just remember to take mosquito repellent.
Atkinson said Dumont will be planted with 2,800 rainbow trout during June.
Be forewarned that there seems to be little point in fishing Dumont on a sunny summer afternoon -- the fish go down deep and they are hard to motivate. However, when the sun finally goes off this high-altitude lake, the surface of the water will be dimpled with the rings of many rising trout.
Beginning fly fishermen should know that this lake sees many midge hatches and fewer larger caddis flies than most lakes. A good strategy is a two-fly system. Tie a small dry fly, perhaps a size 18 Adams, onto the end of your tippet. Then tie a smaller size 20 or 22 midge emerger onto a 6-inch length of tippet. Tie the second tippet off the bend of the Adams hook. You may catch trout on the dry fly, but it's really there to serve as a strike indicator to let the angler know when a fish has taken the smaller midge imitation.
Anyone who has never fished this two-fly rig when trout are feeding heavily on emergers can stop into one of several fly shops on Lincoln Avenue and get solid advice from the pros.
Those same pros will tell their customers that anglers who are looking for a big trout have their best chance to connect right inside the city limits.
The combination of catch and release regulations and a prohibition against bait fishing in the town stretch of the Yampa has resulted in a healthy population of fish in the 14 to 18-inch range. Some trout will go even bigger.
The renaissance on the Yampa has been aided by local conservation and recreation groups. They have cooperated with the city and state on habitat improvement projects that have expanded fishable water in town.