Spring can be a difficult time for many fly-fishers. Most freestone rivers are beginning to rise and discolor with the advent of warmer weather and spring runoff. Though somewhat disheartening, opportunities still abound and prevail. The Fryingpan River, which is controlled by a dam, remains in beautiful shape, with low and clear water providing excellent fishing conditions. As more and more rivers become swollen with increasing snow melt, tailwaters like the Fryingpan will also become more crowded. For me, this is the perfect time of year to explore beyond trout and fish for warmwater species of fish like bass, panfish, pike and carp, which are becoming increasingly more active with the warmer weather.
Between New Castle and Rifle sits two highly productive reservoirs; Harvey Gap and Rifle Gap. Fly-fishers travel from great distances in efforts to catch two primary species of fish here; Northern Pike and Smallmouth Bass. I personally make the drive from Basalt down here about fifty days a year. That number alone should tell you that they’re both worth the short drive.
Northern pike up to 50” inches are no joke on a fly rod. If bigger is better, then these fish are at the very top of the food chain. Eight, nine and ten weight fly rods are needed to throw the large flies used to imitate crayfish, perch, rainbow trout and juvenile pike.
Smallmouth bass, long heralded as pound-for-pound the hardest fighting fish in freshwater, is available in good numbers on both reservoirs. As water temperatures reach above 50’f, smallmouth flock to the shallows in large schools in efforts to spawn and eat crayfish. Fish up to 4lbs are occasionally caught, with feisty 10-14”inch fish being most common.
Fisheries management plans on both reservoirs are changing. Rifle Gap is now being managed for tri-ploid walleye (sterile), perch, black crappie and stocked trout. Restrictions have been lifted for both northern pike and smallmouth bass. Harvey Gap Reservoir is seeing similar restrictions and management with the exception of banning spearing/archery for pike (with the recent introduction of Tiger Muskie, another synthetic man-made fish).
Recent discussions on internet message boards and forums pertaining to the new management and restrictions on the reservoirs are a hot bed of controversy. While talking to both fishermen and park staff, it seems to me that the consensus is that the Colorado Parks and Wildlife is once again using our dollars to stock more trout and manmade fish, foregoing the high-dollar traveling angler that puts big money into the local economy via hotels, restaurants, outdoors stores and more in efforts to pursue pike and smallmouth.
Will the days of seeing some of Colorado’s best pike and bass fishing go by the wayside? I sure hope not. If you’re as worried as I am about salvaging what little is left, I encourage you to contact Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries biologist, Sherman Hebein, at 970.255.6186.
Words by Kirk Webb
Photographs courtesy of Kirk Webb and Christian Hill