The Trials and Tribulations of Winter Trout Fishing

“It’s colder than a ticket taker’s smile at the Ivar Theatre, on a Saturday night” – Tom Waits

~ by Bob Volpe 

With impending cold winds of winter staring fisherman in the face fishing the icy waters of the South Platte can leave a person longing for warm summer breezes and trout taking big dry flies. For those fishermen hardy enough to deal with the chill of winter, the rewards can be rich, particularly this time of year. Dedicated winter fishermen know it’s never too early to prepare for the coming of the late winter Rainbow trout spawn.

Fishermen from all over the world are preparing now for some the best fishing in the world. The 3-mile stretch of the South Platte River between Spinney Mountain Reservoir to the west and Eleven-mile Reservoir to the east is called “The Dream Stream” for good reason.

The Dream Stream is world renown for the opportunity to catch the “fish of a lifetime” during the fall Brown Trout spawning run and the spring Rainbow run. These lake run fish can reach over 26” and weigh over 10 pounds.

Normally, the low flows of the river this time of year are gin clear and fish that will usually spook at the slightest sign of danger are preoccupied with the love dance that will spawn a new generation of fish. This doesn’t mean the pickins’ are easy. There are ethical questions that a responsible fisherman must adhere to ensure the spawn is a success and future generations of trout have a chance to thrive.

Timing is everything. There is a small window of opportunity to fish for these fish before they get down to business. Right now, late February and the first 10 days of March, is the best times to hunt for these beasties. Now the fish are staging for the ritual to come. They haven’t yet gone full tilt mating on nests (called redds) they make in the gravel river bottoms in the riffle sections of the river.

After this window the fish are actively spawning and fishing for fish on redds is totally irresponsible. Leave them alone when you see fish paired up and actively courting. It is easy to see when this behavior is in full swing. The male will be guarding the nest, chasing any fish that come near, and the female will be turning sideways and fanning the gravel to make an indentation in the river bottom in which to lay her eggs. While these fish seem an easy target, don’t let the temptation get the better of you.

If you miss this small window to target the big bows don’t be discouraged. The Rainbows and Cutthroats are not the only fish coming out of the reservoir this time of year. Some Rainbows and Cutthroats that are not lucky enough to engage in the ritual, and large Browns follow the spawners into the river to take advantage of an easy meal of fish eggs that wash out of the reds and helplessly drift downstream.

These fish and are a fair target. They can be found where the riffles drop off into deeper pools waiting for the eggs to come to them. It’s a virtual smorgasbord for these fish and they will eagerly take an artificial egg pattern drifted nicely to them.

This special time of year is no secret on the Dream Stream. Fishermen come from all over the world to try their luck. With the popularity of this section this time of year, the river WILL be crowded with fishermen. This approximately 3-mile long section of river between 11 Mile Reservoir and Spinney Reservoir can see upwards of 200 fishermen a day.

Another very important thing to keep in mind when fishing the Dream this time of year even after the spawn, is to be aware of the redds. Wading in the riffles is highly discouraged. This is where the redds are located. You can spot them easily. There will be a clean spot on the river bottom where the female has fanned away the silt and debris to form her nest. Wading through the redds crushes and dislodges eggs and threatens the entire nest. These redds can be anywhere from a foot in diameter to five yards across. Even if you catch a monster don’t follow it through the riffles. Stay on the bank or let the fish break you off. DON’T WADE IN THE REDDS. PERIOD.

With all that being said, please fish responsibly; endure the crowds without getting into a fistfight or worse a gunfight. Yeah, it happens.

Be aware of fishing regulations too. The Dream Stream is catch and release only and artificial flies and lures only. There is no camping at the river, but there is camping at the Chaparral store west of the area.

Tight lines and happy fishing.