It was a beautiful day in Colorado today, mostly cloudy but with some sun and very pleasant temperatures. I decided to do some fishing in the South Platte Park area that is about two miles from my home. This is a park that has six lakes and the South Platte River flowing through it. The area is home to an abundance of wildlife including deer, coyotes, beaver, cormorants, waterfowl, and a ton of other birds. The Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW) has been working on a project for a couple of years now to improve the river, and I was anxious to see the progress.
As I hiked over to the river the area was alive with budding trees, flowers and bushes, with birds singing on tree branches bouncing in the slight northerly breeze. When I got to the river I was truly amazed! The CPW had narrowed the channel of the river by at least a third, increasing the speed of the water and creating riffles and fast-moving water. I could see that they had dredged the bottom and replaced the mud with gravel and sand that covered the river bed all the way to the banks and over. They also redirected the river in a few places so that it wound through the area creating bends and eddies, great for holding fish. They also placed several large boulders in the river creating additional holding areas and current breaks. I wish I had taken pictures, but unless you knew what it looked like before you wouldn’t be able to appreciate the massive improvement of this habitat. This is a true example of what the revenue from fishing and hunting licenses can do, and I am excited to fish there for years to come.
A park ranger came by to check my license, which I am always happy to comply with for the reason I mentioned above. In fact I had my license checked again later in the day by another park ranger, I am happy to see they are out enforcing the law. The first ranger told me that they had not stocked the river yet since they are still finishing up the construction, but they will be stocking it soon. She also told me that they had just stocked Eagle Watch Lake yesterday with over 2,000 trout and walleye, and that is exactly where I was headed next.
I have been fishing this area for about 15 years, and Eagle Watch Lake always seems to produce for me; I don’t think I’ve ever been skunked there, and I have caught a lot of really nice fish in that lake. I thought of an article I wrote recently about walleye fishing, which you can read by clicking here, and I put on a jointed minnow crank bait in a light green color with some orange around the head and began working my way around the lake, casting out and retrieving slowly, pausing occasionally to let the lure float up a bit, imitating a wounded baitfish. I was working my way towards an inlet that I hoped would attract some fish in that area.
When I got to the inlet I found a finger of land that jutted out into the corner of the lake, and I went to the end of that finger and continued casting. After a few minutes I felt a strike, but I missed setting the hook. A few minutes later it felt like I snagged some vegetation on the bottom and pulled my rod back really hard to dislodge the snag. Then the snag fought back, and I realized I had a huge fish on the line! The fish peeled off some line as it took a turn towards deeper water farther away, but I turned him back and reeled aggressively, pumping the rod to bring him in.
The fish succumbed fairly quickly, and as I got it closer I could see that it was a huge walleye with my lure barely in the corner of its mouth. I eased the fish to the shore, stepped down into the water and took a few pictures before releasing the fish with my pliers without ever bringing him out of the water. That was definitely the biggest fish I have ever caught in that lake, he was over 24” and very heavy, maybe 6 pounds, with some very large teeth. I wish the pictures would have come out better, but I didn’t have a net, and I wasn’t about to stick my hand in that mouth, but that’s OK. This time of year when the fish are spawning I don’t like to stress them any more than I have to in order to release them. This one actually would have made a few good meals and would have been great to have a mount made, but I’m just happy to have caught such a monster.
Some thunderstorms were blowing in and the wind picked up, so I decided to call it a day. As I hiked the mile back to my truck I kept thinking how lucky I am to have this beautiful wild place so close to home, and how thankful I am that I have the ability to get out and enjoy it.