Colorado Fish — Warm Water Natives and Non-Natives
Colorado is blessed with over 2,000 lakes both cold water and warm water. These waters are home to 36 species of both cold and warm water fish. Most of the warm water species can be found in Metro Denver, Colorado reservoirs such as Aurora Reservoir, Quincy Reservoir, Chatfield Reservoir, the lakes in Washington Park or other impoundments in the Metro Denver Area.
Plains lakes and reservoirs such as the Sterling, Colorado reservoir hold very respectable warm water species. Wipers in the 20 plus pound category can be found there. Pueblo, Colorado reservoir holds bass and other warm water species.
There are 19 species of warm water fish in Colorado. Most warm water fish are non-native to Colorado Photos courtesy of Colorado Parks and Recreation and Joseph Tomerelli.
Warm Water Natives
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Green Sunfish This sporty panfish is similar in appearance to the Blue Gill. This stocky olive colored fish has a larger mouth with short rounded pectoral fins and yellow trim on the fins. This panfish spawns from mid-June to August and can be taken on crickets, worms, bait under a bobber. Or on small jigs, lures or flies
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Channel Catfish are an eastern Colorado native. They have been stocked in warmer reservoirs and rivers all over the state. Easily identified by their barbels (whiskers), forked tail and sporadic black spotting. Fishing with chicken innards, flavored dough balls, live bait or any smelly bait at night will usually produce results. (Ripen up some chicken livers or shrimp for a day or so in warm weather, then freeze it for six or more months to “cure”.) If you can’t stand the smell catfish will probably love it. Cats larger than 30 pounds have been caught and can be a tasty meal, if you are willing take the effort to skin them and prepare properly. (breading and deep frying is a southern favorite)
Orange Spotted Sunfish
Warm Water Non- Natives
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli The Tiger Muskie is a hybrid of Northern Pike and Muskie. They were first introduced into Colorado in the 1980s for controlling suckers and carp. Tiger Muskie also provide trophy fishing for large fish. They can reach over 40 pounds and are voracious predators. The largest fish ever caught in Colorado was a Tiger Muskie by Jason Potter at Quincy Reservoir right in Aurora, CO. (40 pounds, 2 ounces and 53 inches long) Tiger Muskie have a long snout filled with teeth, dark tiger stripes on a light body making identification easy. Northern pike look like tiger muskie, but have whitish irregular chain markings on a dark body. Your best opportunity to catch a tiger muskie is by throwing large lures over vegetation in the summer
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Northern Pike look like Tiger Muskie but have whitish chain markings on a dark body. Pike are big toothy critters and voracious predators.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Black Crappie Introduced in the 1880s these pan shaped fish have silver splotches on a black body. The dorsal fin and rays get longer as they approach the tail. Crappie are schooling fish congregating around vertical structures. Best angling success is by jigging in the early spring. Typically weighing in under one pound, specimens over 4 pounds have been caught. (note: When I was young, I can remember fishing the Ft. Gibson lake in Ok with my father and catching crappie averaging 3 to 4 pounds.)
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Blue Gill are in the sunfish classification. The body is short and stocky with a dorsal fin that is not split. They have a small mouth on a short head with a dark gill flap without trim. Sides are covered with vertical stripes with sharp pointed pectoral fins. Best caught in morning or evening with light tackle such as a bobber and worm or small dry flies. Catch one and you will find others in the school nearby. Spawning in late spring to August, they build nests in leaves, gravel or sand in 1 – 4 ft of water. Males during spawning are quite colorful in blue colors. During summer heat look for them in the weed beds and deeper water.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Wiper is a hybrid between the striped bass and white bass. After being introduced into eastern Colorado lakes in the 1980s, these fish have become a popular sport fish because of their hard fighting habits. Wipers are a schooling fish. During summer, they can be found “busting” prey fish on the surface. Cast shad imitations or lures at the “busting” prey and hold on tight if you hook up with a wiper. Trolling is another popular method of taking this fish.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Walleye Since their introduction in 1949, walleye can be found in most large warm and cool water reservoirs. Identify them by their two separate dorsal fins and a white tipped tail The adults feed entirely on other fish. Slowly cranking jigs or spinners over bottom structures is a good method of taking walleye. Walleye are considered one of Colorado’s tastiest fish and have been caught in excess of 18 pounds.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Saugeye are a hybrid walleye and sauger. Since the 1980s, they have been stocked into eastern plains Colorado reservoirs. Easily distinguished from walleye by the black mottling markson the body, black pigmentation between dorsal spines and no white marking on the tail. While saugeye don’t grow as big as walleye, they are just as tasty. Your best bet to catch saugeye is trolling live bait or slowly retrieving jigs over bottom humps and points.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Yellow Perch introduced log ago, this fish is one of Colorado’s most abundant game fish. And they are very tasty. Easily identified by two separate dorsal fins with large vertical dark stripes on a yellowish body. Found in large schools, they are caught by using bait or small spinners. Usually weighing in under one pound, some over two pounds can occasionally be found.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Small Mouth Bass have been stocked in warm and cool-water reservoirs and lakes since 1951. Identified by the vertical lines on their sides and a jaw that does not extend beyond their eyes. Many may have a reddish eye. Frequently found along rip rap shorelines. They can be caught with small jigs or crayfish imitations. “Smallies” are a great introductory fish for children.
Photo courtesy of Joseph Tomerelli Largemouth Bass An old timer to Colorado, the largemouth was introduced in 1878. This fish has a large mouth that extends beyond the eye and a horizontal stripe on the body. Large mouth have exceeded 10 pounds in Colorado and have an aggressive predatory behaviour. Fishing with lures and plugs during dawn and dusk around cattails and sunken logs are you best bet to land a “lunker”
White Bass Brown Bullhead Sacramento Perch Pumpkin Seed
Blue Catfish Flathead Catfish Freshwater Drum Common Carp