Colorado Fish — Cold Water Natives and Non-Natives
Colorado is blessed with over 6,000 stream miles of both cold and warm water. Plus over 2,000 lakes both cold water and warm water. These waters are home to 36 species of both cold and warm water fish.
According to the Colorado Division of Wildlife only six of the Colorado fish species found here are native or indigenous to the state.
Cold Water Natives
COLD WATER NATIVE — Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Cutthroat Trout– Apparently this species was named for the bright red slash on the throat and sometimes the gill plates. (Also heavier spotting toward the tail area than rainbows) The 3 major subspecies of cutthroat trout are: The Rio Grande Cutthroat, the Colorado Cutthroat and the Greenback Cutthroat trout ) A variety of factors has contributed to the decrease in range of this species. The DOW is under-taking extensive recovery efforts of this species The Greenback Cutthroat Trout was named official state fish in 1994.
COLD WATER NATIVE — Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Mountain Whitefish — Originally natives of the Yampa and White River Drainages, whitefish have been introduced into the Colorado and Cache LaPoudre Rivers. White fish posses a delicate mouth and require playing delicately. Their scales are larger than a trout. They posses a small adipose fin (small flap of skin on their back toward the tail) Smoked whitefish are considered a delicacy in many parts of the country.
Cold Water Non-Natives
19 inch brown trout from Bridge Pool South Platte River in 2001. Brown Trout were first introduced into Colorado in The 1890s. Now the browns can be found from high mountain streams and lakes to broad rivers flowing into the plains. Brown trout are more tolerant of warm water. Browns also are much more resistant to whirling disease than rainbows. They can be difficult to catch but the fall spawning runs often offer good success. Browns are identified by a large dark spotting pattern and reddish dots.
Rainbow Trout — First introduced in the 1880s, the rainbow has become a favorite of anglers statewide. The rainbow is a mainstay of Colorados hatchery system. Millions of catchable and subcatchable sized fish are stocked annually. Physical characteristics include dark spots on a light body, continuous spotting and often a horizontal reddish “rainbow” stripe down the body.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Grayling are an Artic import to Colorado. They add variety to high mountain lake fishing. Their main characteristic is the large sail like dorsal fin. Graylings’ extremely small mouth means using small flies or lures. Usually 12 inches or less in length, Grayling offer a nice challenge to anglers and good photo opportunities if you catch one.
Photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service Brook Trout — This prolific fish will out compete most other trout species. This will result in overpopulation and often small sized fish. Brook trout are identified by white spots (worm shaped on top) and tri-colored fins (Orange, black and white). They will rise to a large variety of lures, baits and flies. Brook trout were first introduced into Colorado in the late 1800’s. They are usually found in higher lakes, beaver dams and smaller streams. Brook trout have been found to be a major factor in the decline of the native cutthroat trout
Photo courtesy of Ohio Department of Wildlife Lake Trout (Mackinaw) are the largest trout in North America. The main identifying characteristic is the deep fork in the tail. They inhabit the deeper waters of mountain lakes. Best fishing success is fall and spring in shallower areas and when ice fishing.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Kokanee Salmon — or land-locked Pacific salmon are particularly suited to the fluctuating levels in large Colorado mountain reservoirs. Kokanee can be identified by their silver body with black spots on the upper half. The swim in compact schools feeding on zooplankton (algae) that is not affected by the drawing down of reservoirs. During the fall spawning season, the males will develop a “hook” jaw and both the male and female turn reddish in color. Special snagging seasons are offered on some areas during spawning runs, and provide much of the catch for these delicious salmon. Because their stomachs close off and cannot accept food, Kokanee die after spawning.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Splake — are a hybrid species of both lake and brook trout. They contain the best characteristics both species. They contain tri-colored pelvic fins like brook trout and slightly forked tails like lake trout. They are found in high mountain lakes. Since the 1980s, they have been used to thin out stunted brook trout populations. Splake grow large (up to 18 pounds). Anglers find best success during the summer months with flies, lures and bait.