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  • Rusty and Cindy Stimmel

Colorado, State fish Greenback Cutthroat Trout,

I chose to catch the state fish of Colorado, the Greenback Cutthroat Trout. The Greenback was declared to be extinct in the 1930s, due to loss of habitat and mismanagement by the Colorado Department of Parks and Recreation, until a few small populations were found in some headwater streams, in 1953. University of Colorado researchers showed that all but the these were not pure strain Greenback Cutthroats by comparison with museum samples from the 1800s. The last pure strain was found in 3.5 miles of Bear Creek. Breeding programs and fish hatcheries were used to save the genetically pure strain. There are few places where pure strain Greenback Cutthroats can be caught.

Zimmerman Lake in Northern Colorado is being used to help strengthen the remaining strain of fish. All fish in the lake were killed and pure strain fish were stocked into the lake. There is an inlet stream where spawning takes place. The fish spawn in the spring then return to the lake. There is sufficient food for the fish during the summer. The amount of food decreases during fall when the fry are leaving the stream and entering the lake. Most of the fry are eaten by the fish in the lake. The surviving fry are the strongest. The larger fish which cannot compete are also eliminated.

We were told about Zimmerman Lake by salesmen in North Park Anglers in Walden, Co. They recommended trying a Damsel Fly Nymph with a small dropper behind it, which should be retrieved slowly. They told us it was an easy one mile walk up to the lake from the trailhead.

We drove to the trail head and arrived about 8:30 a.m. and started up the trail. The first thing you see is a large sign about catching the State Fish of Colorado. Fishing rules are described on the sign and in the regulations as using a barbless hook, fly and lure only. We started up the 4-wheel drive road which was the trail and realized it lead steeply up to the lake. While we climbed, Cindy created breaks by taking pictures of wild flowers along the way.

We were taking our time as we were both struggling with the altitude and the climb. There were puddles of water in the trail as the road was very rough. In one puddle, I saw deer tracks with mountain lion tracks overlaid on them. We thought were about to the top every time we saw a false crest. I was watching the distance we walked on my watch and thought we would surely be going downhill by the ¾ mile mark. We were not. After one mile, we expected to see the lake but still saw a crest ahead of us. After another quarter mile, we finally topped the last crest and saw the lake. The trail is about 1 ¼ mile long

with about 600 feet rise in elevation with the lake at 10,500 ft. in elevation.

What a beautiful sight. The lake is at the top of the trail and is beautiful. I looked over the lake and unfortunately saw little to help me in choosing flies. One of the first things I saw was discarded line rigged for bait fishing. I tied on a damsel fly imitation with a #18 Pheasant tail dropper, which I fished with at several paces around the lake with no success.

I noticed the fly was staying in the top 6 inches of water and I wanted to try deeper, so I tied on a bead head olive woolly bugger, with still no success. At 11:30, Cindy informed me that it was time to eat lunch. As we ate lunch, I noticed that there were white aquatic moths laying eggs and motorboat caddis were active. I should have noticed them earlier and decided that I need to work on my observations.

I put on a Lafontaine Beatle with a large white wing and a Rusty’s body glass caddis on a 3-foot dropper. I noticed a few fish rising in deep water well out from the shoreline and went to the only place I could reach deep water, which was the dam. There was a slight wind blowing and my fly drifted slowly to shore. I needed to recast about every 10 minutes. I slowly worked my way down the dam with each cast. I saw a bulge of water about three feet from my indicator fly. About a foot from my fly a fish dove and took the caddis. I gently set the hook, yelled to Cindy and carefully brought the fish in. I had forgot my net and landing the fish by hand on a dam face was not easy, so I almost lost it before we got a picture.

Releasing the fish successfully was a great reward. We watched it swim back out to deeper water.

I continued to fish for about 20 minutes when we heard thunder. We decided to head back down the trail as we did not want to be caught in a thunder storm. We went down a little faster than up with the help of gravity. When we got to the car, there was some lightening activity in the area. We were glad we had headed down when we first heard the thunder. We found out later that there had been scattered intense thunderstorms in the mountains around Zimmerman Lake starting about 30 minutes after we drove away from the trailhead.

We also caught several Rainbow and Brown Trout, which ae not native, in several rivers and lakes in Colorado

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