Colorado is blessed with a great diversity of fisheries. While we’re best known for our phenomenal trout fisheries and scenic mountain views, there’s a lot more to Colorado than high mountains and trout.
Northeast of Fort Collins, along the South Platte River, are a number of state parks and wildlife areas that offer good fishing for walleye, wiper, drum, catfish, carp, and other warmwater species. Jackson and North Sterling State Parks come with all the amenities and recreational opportunities we’ve come to expect from Colorado State Parks and Wildlife. Prewitt, Jumbo, and Jumbo Annex are State Wildlife Areas catering more to hunters and fishers and come with limited amenities.
Recently, Brian and I visited North Sterling Reservoir, located a little over 12 miles north and slightly west of Sterling. This state park, with its large, 100 year old irrigation reservoir, offers plenty of recreational opportunities including boating, skiing, swimming, fishing, hunting, hiking, wildlife viewing, camping, and picnicking.
It’s been a number of years since I last visited North Sterling, and have avoided it the last couple years as it suffered massive fish kill the fall of 2012. Consequently, I felt it was in a rebuilding stage and figured I’d give it a few years before trying it. However, persistent reports of good fishing for carp and drum, especially the drum, caught my attention so I talked Brian into making the two hour drive to check it out.
Wanting to be at the ramp when the inspection station opened at seven, we left at five. Unfortunately, I failed to check for road conditions before leaving. Consequently, we encountered a construction delay we could have easily avoided, putting us at the lake a half hour later than planned. And if I’d check with parks, I’d have found that I could have launched early, provided my boat had been inspected prior, by logging in at the ramp and depositing the seal and receipt in the provided container. Poor planning on my part as leaving a bit earlier and taking a different route would have put us on the water at sunrise, always a magical fishing time.
As we prepped the boat for launch, we noticed the water was alive with surface activity, a good sign that the fish populations were recovering and active. Normally on reservoirs I haven’t visited for a while, I “tour” the lake first before fishing. Not this day. After Brian dropped me and the boat into the water, parked the trailer, and stepped onto the boat, I dropped the trolling motor and we proceeded to fish.
Surface action suggested trying nymphs or dries. Starting out with a new carp pattern I designed to work in the surface film plus a nymph, we proceeded to fish our way toward and down the dam face. It wasn’t long before I hooked a chunky green sunfish. The next hour we amused ourselves catching sunfish but quickly hungered for something more substantial and switched over to larger flies and a sinking line. A good choice as the rest of the day we were rewarded with steady action, primarily freshwater drum from 14 to18 inches, and carp from 18 to 24 inches with a few bluegill, crappie, and smallmouth bass to boot. As long as we fished shoreline with a steep slope, we caught fish everywhere we tried. Talking with others we realized we had only sampled what North Sterling has to offer as wiper, walleye, trout, largemouth, catfish, and yellow perch are also present.
At day’s end, my only regret was that I hadn’t visited North Sterling Reservoir sooner, a mistake that I’m not likely to repeat.
First published Sunday 8/30/2015 in the Fort Collins Coloradoan Explorer Section.