When people hear they can catch all the fish they want, they flock. That was the expectation last week at Crystal Creek Reservoir, which is being drained to repair an outdated dam — prompting an emergency salvage, a take-all-you-want call to anglers.
But in the dash to the shore off the Pikes Peak Highway, Kenny Romero wants to fill people in on a secret. That’s what the lifelong local fisherman and guide calls the scene on America’s Mountain.
“The best-kept secret.”
Not far from Crystal, for example, are the North and South Catamount reservoirs. They can’t be called secrets, judging by the tourist-packed parking lots in summer.
But serious anglers skip Pikes Peak for more famous trophies lurking just outside the region, in the Spinney Mountain and Antero reservoirs. And other anglers — what seems like most nowadays — are opting for Colorado’s iconic, rushing rivers. The sport is trending there, and those in the know locally say the peak’s fishing holes are being missed.
“There’s more and more pressure as fly fishing is becoming so popular,” Romero says. “That’s what’s wonderful about still water fishing. The South Platte and Arkansas River are receiving heavy pressure, and still water is an escape for many people from that.
“Plus, it’s a new adventure. Like, it’s mysterious to a lot of people. Still water is mysterious.”
Take it from Romero and his boss, David Leinweber, the owner of Angler’s Covey who often finds himself alone on Rosemont Reservoir, among hideaways in the wooded nooks and crannies of the peak’s south slope. From Gold Camp Road, it’s a short hike to the glistening home of browns, rainbows and brook trout.
Leinweber also loves to paddle out on Skaguay Reservoir in search of lunker northern pike. Surrounded by the hills above the old mining camp of Victor, it’s one of those timeless places that comes to him in his dreams. “Gin clear,” he calls the water. “You can see fish cruising by all the time.”
Yet from Leinweber’s observation, Rosemont and Skaguay and others like them are fading from the mainstream in Colorado.
“It’s just not getting the same love,” he says. “Even canoeing in Colorado, it’s not really taken up seriously. But boy, you talk to people in Wisconsin or Minnesota or the South, that’s what you do, you get out on the lake. There isn’t that same buzz here. It’s just not marketed very well.”
That’d be him, too, in the magazine pictures: casting a line, waders thigh-deep in some small stream threading a canyon. But in these weeks before the summer, he prizes lakes, his escapes while early snowmelt makes the rivers big and crazy.
Especially this wet year, Leinweber is eyeing the South Platte, which has been known to flood and close. He says it could be a perfect time for flyfishers to discover the change of scenery.
“Stillwater fishing is gonna be dynamite this year,” Romero says.
That’s based on levels he foresees rising as ice breaks. Late last week, Colorado Springs Utilities monitors showed North and South Catamount reservoirs climbing above 72 percent and 82 percent full, respectively. The more water, the more bugs will be teeming — more food for the growing fish.
“Water quality and quantity are gonna be excellent this year,” says Keith Riley, Utilities’ general manager of water systems, who happens to be an avid angler. “I’m really looking forward to getting out there.”
Cory Noble, local aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, expects “a banner year” on both Catamounts. Expecting them to handle more visits with Crystal’s depletion, he’s stocking North Cat with about 21,000 catchable trout (10 inches on average) and adding 16,000 to South Cat.
That’s several thousand more than in most years, Noble says. “That extra stocking is gonna make a big difference.”
Meanwhile, on the much more remote side of Pikes Peak, there’s concern for McReynolds Reservoir’s cutthroats. The permit-only South Slope Recreation Area opened to great fanfare five years ago. Barred to the public for a century, anglers found the wild trout to be big and plenty. And while the hike to Mason Reservoir is currently full, McReynolds consistently drops due to an unresolved leak — not good for the species relying on cool conditions, Riley said.
Last year, “it was so shallow that the (water) temperatures were climbing to the point where we were talking informally with Parks and Wildlife about how stressful it is for the fish to be caught and released.”
Those curious about the fishing might want to secure a coveted South Slope permit this season, as McReynolds’ closure “could get heavy consideration” soon, Riley said.
He’s eager to hop on his bike and ride the Lake Moraine Trail, finally finished last fall after decades of anticipation. Fishing remains a mystery in the water known as Mystic Lake by early settlers, who told stories of a monster there.
Fish are there, Riley said, and anglers are welcome to see for themselves if they dare the long, arduous journey, picking up the new trail from North Cheyenne Cañon or Pikes Peak’s Barr Trail.
Leinweber is eager to check out Lake Moraine, too, though he knows he has many options on his home mountain.
His favorite? “Maybe I shouldn’t tell you.”