Photo by Travel Crested Butte
Thank you to Mitch Bradshaw Outdoors for this awesome video
Mid-December to April or May: Ice Fishing
Ice Fishing is the name of the game. Higher elevations will see ice as early as the beginning of December while Blue Mesa Reservoir usually will not have safe Ice on the west end until late December. The ice on the “Big Blue” will work its way east as the winter gets colder, most years being fully frozen by mid to late January.
In general trout are very comfortable in cold water allowing them to occupy large portions of the reservoirs during Ice Fishing season. Focus on structure such as rock piles or points in 10’-40’ of water for Rainbows and Browns using bait or small jigs such as Rapala ice jigs, Dynamic HD ice, or small hair jigs tipped with meal worms. Lake trout will be deeper, anywhere from 40’-100’ +, mainly on the edge of large flats. They will be more susceptible to tube jigs, often tipped with sucker meat, keeping in mind that even a giant lake trout may bite so softly that the rod tip does not even bend. Kokanee will be suspended over deep water and the use of electronics is essential in locating constantly moving schools of salmon.
Mid-April to Late May/Early June: Ice Off
Ice off is the most wonderful time of the year to be a lake fisherman. Blue Mesa typically ices off sometime in April, dependent on how cool or warm the spring is. Taylor Reservoir is almost always one month behind with the higher elevation lakes not thawing until June most years.
From ice off until water temperatures reach the mid 50s, anglers will find brown trout hugging rocky shore lines making them easy to catch with crank baits, ¼ oz jigs, and spinners. Fish in the 15”-20” range are common with a chance at a brown in the 5-10 lb range a real possibility. Rainbows will be shallow as well, spawning in the spring time. Focus in and around coves with running water using the same tactics as Browns. Lake Trout LOVE cold water too. Spring time is the time of year when “all of those pictures” are taken of giant lake trout. Try trolling big crank baits and flat fish or vertical jigging tube jigs in 5’-60’ of water, typically on larger flat areas of the reservoirs.
June through August: Rainbow Trout & Kokanee Salmon
Trout will remain active especially Rainbows, often catchable on the surface, but usually away from the banks. Lake trout will move to almost uncatchable depths.
Early summer however, is prime time for Kokanee fishing on Blue Mesa. Trolling from a boat is the preferred method. Kokanee will start shallow in early summer and work their way deeper as water temperatures rise. Start in early June by looking at the top 20’ or 30’ of the water column over deeper parts of the reservoir. By the end of July kokanee should be between 60-100’ again over deeper water. The use of downriggers or lead core line to troll or vertical jigging with 1oz-2oz lead jigs as schools of four year olds prepare to run up the rivers in late summer are practically the only two ways to catch kokanee in the reservoirs.
Both Brown Trout and Lake Trout spawn in the fall. Look for them just off of rocky flats as they prepare to move onto and then come off of spawning grounds. Trout typically spawn in water that is between 48 and 55 degrees. Fish coming off of the spawn are often very aggressive as the try to regain calories lost during the spawning cycle. Most of the four year kokanee have ran up the river by this point, but a few schools of fish that were stalked by truck can be found attempting to spawn where they were stalked, often around the bay of chickens on Blue Mesa and by the Dam of Taylor Reservoir. Snagging of salmon is legal on both Taylor and Blue Mesa Reservoirs during certain times of the fall, check Colorado regulations for dates and locations as they change frequently.