Community Agriculture Alliance: Local fishing options abound

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— Here we are enjoying long summer days, and I am finally digging into that “around the house” list that never stops growing. But you can’t call it a summer if you don’t find time to camp and fish — at least a little. Because I am a wildlife officer, a lot of people ask where I go to camp and fish in Routt County. That is actually a harder question than you might think — there are so many options.

Most fishing spots in Routt County are for a handful of coldwater species lumped together under the classification of trout. The trout group includes rainbow, brown, brook and the native cutthroat trout. Add to that list the arctic char, which occupies two reservoirs at opposite ends of the county, and you have a good variety of species to target.

Known for its great rainbow and cutthroat trout fishing in the spring, Steamboat Lake is a popular spot in North Routt County. Here, the fish move into inlet streams and along the dam during the spawning season. Because the conditions in the inlet streams and lake are not the best for successful breeding and rearing from natural spawning, casting your bait during the spring does not harm the fishery.

Other nearby lakes include Pearl and Hahns Peak lakes, both just short drives off Routt County Road 129. Although Pearl Lake is one of only two lakes in Routt County where you can catch arctic grayling, the real attraction here is the native cutthroat.

Going south to the opposite end of the county, you can find good fishing at Sheriffs Reservoir, on the east side of Dunckley Pass. Test your skills by casting in the inlet and outlet streams as well as the lake.

Continuing east and south along the Flattops Wilderness Area, you will find Chapman Reservoir and Crosho Lake, which are accessible by vehicle. Crosho Lake is the best arctic grayling fishery in Routt County, but like Pearl Lake it also sports great cutthroat fishing.

A little farther down Colorado Highway 131, you can drive west from Yampa on C.R. 7 and find the Bear River corridor.

About 10 miles up valley from Yampa are Yamcolo and Stillwater reservoirs and Bear Lake. This is one of the most beautiful valleys in Routt County and a gateway into the Flattops Wilderness. All three waters as well as the Bear River offer great fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout in pristine settings.

Other nearby reservoirs with great fishing include Gardner Park Reservoir and Rams Horn Lake, both accessible by vehicle or ATV on minimally maintained Forest Service roads.

If hiking or riding horseback to a fishing hole is more your style, you will find unlimited opportunities in the Mount Zirkel and Flattops wilderness areas.

I recommend driving up C.R. 129 off Mad Creek trailhead and trying out Lake Margaret, Luna Lake or Lake Ebert.

Farther up C.R. 129, you can head to Slavonia and hike into Gold Creek and Gilpin lakes and the headwaters of the Elk River.

If you prefer to head south to the Flattops, the Mandall Lakes — Black, Slide, Twin and Mud — are easily accessed from the Bear River corridor at Bear Lake.

A few miles south from Stillwater Reservoir are trails into Little Causeway, Rainbow, Skillet, Mosquito, Hooper, Keener and Edge lakes.

Head west over Dunckley Pass on Rio Blanco County Road 8 and you’ll run into the Gill Reservoir access trail. It’s a short, 1.5-mile walk along an old logging road to find some nice brook trout.

Another spot to try starts at Pyramid guard station, following up the East Fork of the Williams Fork, which is off Rio Blanco C.R. 8. You can hike or ride a loop to access Round Lake, Long Lake and East and West Lost Lakes.

Again, there are many other small lakes in the area that will take some orienteering skills to find, but you will enjoy spending some time exploring the vastness of the Flattops Wilderness Area. Don’t forget that every stream that feeds or leaves a lake can hold fish, so as you hike or ride your way in, take some time to check them out.

Although most residents and visitors think “trout” when contemplating a fishing trip in Routt County, there also are a couple of exceptional warm-water fisheries nearby.

Just north of Hayden, Elkhead Reservoir is one of the most diverse warm-water fisheries in Routt County and is producing exceptional angling opportunities. Northern pike are doing well here, and their average size is increasing every year. Black crappie, however, is one of the most sought-after species this water has to offer. Keep in mind that black crappies tend to seek out underwater structures for cover and security, so they are not as widespread as pike, but they will provide you with nonstop action when you locate a school.

The same can be said for the smallmouth bass, arguably the favorite target of serious warm-water anglers at Elkhead. Keep in mind that the reservoir has a special two-fish, 15-inch or larger regulation on bass to help protect and promote the fishery.

Bluegill, catfish and rainbow trout round out the smorgasbord of game fish available at Elkhead Reservoir. The most productive fishing may be on the northern end of the reservoir, where wakeless boating regulations exist.

With 4 and 5-pounders regularly reported, the rainbow trout fishery is the main attraction at Stagecoach and may be better than it has ever been. In addition, this reservoir has a good population of large northern pike with a potential of beating the current state record. Remember that both reservoirs are Colorado State Parks and require a parks pass for entrance.

My fishing rod is in the truck, and it’s time for me to explore. Hope to see you out there.

Steve Znamenacek is the Colorado Division of Wildlife district wildlife manager for the Hayden area.

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