Pueblo Reservoir made the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society (BASS) Top 100 in 2014 at number 80 topping venerable and time-honored bass destinations such as Santee Cooper, Lake of the Ozarks, Lay Lake and Lake Lanier. It was an accolade that was well deserved. In 2015, Pueblo Reservoir dropped off the list, but according to the fishing I experienced in September 2015, BASS made a big mistake by not including the Colorado reservoir.
Fishing with bass pro Sam Heckman, we caught in excess of 50 bass in a morning of fishing using several different techniques. The catch included hard-fighting smallies, chunky largemouths and corpulent spotted bass. None of the fish were giants, but we would have had a pretty good sack if we were in a tournament. I can’t imagine too many of the Top 100 that could produce more consistent and exciting action. And this was in the land of trout.
Like all reservoirs, Lake Pueblo or Pueblo Reservoir covers about 4,000 acres depending on water levels and bass fishing success parallels how much water the reservoir is holding. After several years of drought, water levels have rebounded and vegetation that has grown on the shoreline is flooded providing plenty of hiding spots for shad, crawfish and hungry bass. Pueblo Reservoir is also home to a burgeoning walleye population, wipers, catfish, crappies, bluegill and yellow perch. The reservoir receives annual stockings of catchable rainbow trout in the spring and yearling McConaughy-strain rainbows in the summer. Trout that make it through the year can easily stretch from 16 to 24 inches by the following spring. It’s mainly the walleyes and bass though that attracts the majority of angler’s attention.
“Pueblo Reservoir is managed for a variety of warm water species,” said Colorado Park and Wildlife aquatic biologist Carrie Tucker. “Most of these species are doing quite well right now. Part of that is because of a longer growing season and an abundance of prey. I’ve only seen ice on the reservoir one time in the 15 years I’ve lived here and that was only for a short time around the edges.”
Another thing that has helped Pueblo Reservoir fish populations is water. The reservoir experienced extremely low water levels between 2010 and 2012 during the drought that gripped the region. “Water levels were still pretty low in 2013, higher in 2014 and crazy high in 2015,” said Tucker. Tucker said extreme water levels in the spring of 2015 flooded marinas, boat ramps and closed portions of the state park. Once the water finally subsided, water levels remained relatively high in 2015, which bodes well for species like walleyes. “Walleyes are doing well in the reservoir,” said Tucker. “There’s an abundance of larger walleye greater than 21-inches, but anglers don’t seem to catch many of them because they tend to be in deeper water. During our annual gill net survey in 2013, we found between 30 and 40 walleyes that were larger than 21 inches and we caught quite a few large walleyes during our spring survey in 2015. In fact, the spring egg-taking operation this year (2015) secured more eggs than anytime in the past seven years. That allowed CPW to plant more than 13.5 million fry this spring. With the high water we’re experiencing, I would except there will be good survival rates, which will equate to some great fishing three years down the road.” There is a daily bag limit of five walleyes on Pueblo and an 18-inch minimum size limit and only one of those fish can be over 21 inches.
Bass pro Sam Heckman said he doesn’t troll for walleye, but it’s one of the most productive methods for anglers on Pueblo. “A lot of guys do well trolling with Shad Raps and Berkley Frenzies and Flicker Shads,” said Heckman. Trolling does a good job of targeting Pueblo walleyes that are shadowing schools of gizzard shad. Heckman said that walleyes concentrate off the points as the water is drawn down and begins to recede. That’s a good time to pitch jigs and leeches. Trolling or drifting with live bait rigs is another proven method.
Heckman shared that Pueblo walleyes have a sweet tooth for crawdads. “The reservoir is up about 8 feet from full pool right how and as it drops the crayfish migrate with the water,” he said. Heckman said he often catches good walleyes then pitching plastic crayfish imitations for bass and he was shocked that we didn’t tag a few good ‘eyes during our trip. According to the CPW, the highest catch rates for walleye usually occur from mid-May to the end of June. Walleye then are relating to flats and points and are feeding heavily. If you have your sights set on a trophy walleye, March and October or November are prime when the biggest ‘eyes move shallow to feed. Chuck big stickbaits and don’t be afraid to stay out after dark.
Wipers, although present in Pueblo Reservoir, are kind of hit or miss. “Wiper numbers have been struggling in recent years,” claimed Tucker. We (CPW) rely heavily on other states, like Oklahoma and Texas, for our wiper supply and stocks have been slim in recent years. We were able to stock 600,000 wiper fry in the reservoir this year (2015), but wipers can be “very picky.” It remains to be seen if Pueblo’s wiper fishery can recover. “We’re hoping to see higher wiper production by CPW in the future.” The state record wiper was caught from Pueblo Reservoir in 2004 and weighed 26 pounds, 15 ounces.
Pueblo Reservoir is home to three species of catfish-channel, flathead and blues. Each has the potential to reach Master Angler-sized proportions in Pueblo with the bounty of forage available. Blue catfish are rare, but the chances of a state-record fish exist. Channel and flathead catfish are abundant and state records for both species have come from Pueblo Reservoir over the years. Channel cats are more common than flatheads, but the number of flatheads has been increasing in recent years. The current state-record flathead is a Pueblo Reservoir fish.
“People love to fish at night for catfish,” suggested biologist Carrie Tucker. Catfish can be easily caught from shore and it doesn’t require expensive equipment to catch them. It’s often a family affair. Catfish can be caught on live bait, stink baits and cut bait. And they’re great eating.
“Most anglers don’t target trout on Pueblo,” admitted Tucker. Surveys suggest maybe they should. The North and South marina coves are planted with catchable, 10-inch trout each spring and those that survive until the following spring end up as rotund 16- to 24-inch chunks. Some anglers target trout in the winter from January until March when other species are less active. Others are caught from April to June by shocked anglers trolling for walleyes. The CPW plants a mixture of cuttbows, rainbows and McConaughy-strain rainbows. “The McConaughy-strain rainbows were planted by my predecessor probably because they’re a disease-resistant strain and they do well in warmer water,” said Tucker.
Pueblo Reservoir has both black and white crappies and the specks do especially well when water levels are high and flood the shoreline brush. With water levels up, crappies fortunes on Pueblo are high. The flooded vegetation provides outstanding spawning habitat for crappies and is a good hiding place for young-of-the-year shad that the papermouths gorge on. Crappies in excess of 15 inches are fairly common. There are some slab bluegills in the reservoir, too.
Much of the angling attention on Pueblo Reservoir is directed towards black bass. “Pueblo is one of the only places in the state that has spotted bass,” offered Carrie Tucker. Pueblo Reservoir also has a bounty of smallmouth and largemouth bass. Recent studies indicate the reservoir is loaded with a preponderance of 10- to 15-inch bass, which bodes well for the future. Master-angler sized smallmouths pushing 20 inches and largemouths topping 21 inches are fairly common though and exceedingly fat due to the abundance of shad and crayfish. Smallmouths predominate, but you can expect to catch three species in a days fishing.
Sam Heckman only lives a half hour away from Pueblo Reservoir in Fountain, Colorado, but between work and his busy bass tournament schedule, Heckman doesn’t get to fish Pueblo as much as he’d like. He was quick to jump at the chance to fish the reservoir when I suggested we meet on an Indian summer day last September.
After our obligatory boat inspection, we launched at the south boat launch and only motored across the cove before we began fishing. There wasn’t a hint of wind in early morning, which made for perfect conditions for topwater fishing. The high water had flooded the brush that had grown up on the shoreline, which looked like kochia, providing idea habitat for bass, baitfish and crawdads. All would begin a migration to deeper water as the reservoir receded during the fall drawn down. The brush made for an irregular shoreline with plenty of points, cups and islands of flooded vegetation that provided ambush points for bass.
It had been years since I fished top-water lures for bass, but I quickly remembered how exciting it is when a chunky largemouth exploded on my buzzbait on about the third cast. I felt the bass briefly, but he escaped.
Cool nights had chilled the surface water on Pueblo from the low 80’s the week before to the low 70’s and the bass were obviously lethargic. In one small cove, a half dozen bass blew up on Sam’s buzzbait, but none hooked up. The sluggish bass frustrated Sam, but we both had a feeling that as things warmed up, so would the fishing. Sam finally caught a decent smallmouth and a chubby largemouth that finally felt the hooks on the buzzbait.
Predictably, the wind began to pick up and Sam suggested we switch gears. Trading the buzzbaits for a plastic crawfish imitation, Sam recommended we try a flooded point. You could see the lighter-colored bottom of the sandy point that extended into the lake. The water was about 5 feet on the brush-filled point and quickly dropped off to 15 to 30 feet where Sam positioned the boat. The idea was to cast to the edge of the point, let the bait fall to bottom and then work it back by dragging, swimming and crawling the fake crawdads with short hops and twitches. Sam showed me how to insert the tip of the sticky-sharp 2/0 Trokar hook a ¼ inch into tail of the bait and then turn the hook over and insert the hook into the body so it protruded to just under the surface of the lure. Sam stressed how important it was that the bait be straight. A 1/4-ounce bullet-shaped sinker was allowed to slide down against the fake crawfish and a tiny rubber stop prevented it from sidling up the line.
Sam pulled out all the stops by bring his tournament gear. The rods, made by Bass Pro Shop and Eagle Claw were strong, but light as a feather, and super sensitive. You could feel the instant a bass started chewing on your crawdad. It was easy to see why a tournament angler could cast all day long with the super-light, sensitive sticks.
I doubt that either of us had made two casts before we caught a bass and from then on it was very steady. You either had a strike or caught a fish on every cast. At one juncture, there was a top of a tree that was sticking out of the water just off the point. Probably two-thirds of the tree though was under water. I cast just to the edge of the tree and let my weedless crayfish fall. On three consecutive casts I caught a bass and they included a largemouth, smallmouth and a spot. On one cast I nearly got my lure back to the boat without a bite, but I stopped and hopped the crawdad almost vertically. A smallmouth crushed the bait and almost jerked the very expensive tournament outfit out of my hand. I gave out a hoot and Sam turn with a grin and asked, “Are we having fun yet?” There was no need for a reply.
Having caught a bunch of decent smallmouths we decided to change things up and try for a good largemouth. Leaving the point, we moved into a cove that had several gravelly spits sticking out from each side. You could see bottom 20 feet off the shore, but the shoreline plunged into 25 to 30 feet in the center of the cove in place and had a very irregular bottom.
Sam noticed some tiny young-of-the-year shad on the surface and suggested we try some Senkos. I’d heard about Senkos, knew what they looked like, but had never fished one. The silver/smoke color Sam chose was supposed to imitate the dying shad. Senkos are called a “do nothing worm” because that’s how you fish them. You cast it out, let it sink and watch your line or wait for a subtle “tick.” You can rig it whacky-style or use it Texas-rigged like Sam did.
Again, we hadn’t made two casts when Sam grunted, “There’s one!” A chunky largemouth came thrashing to the surface and then bored for the bottom. Sam lipped the brute. It was thick from stem to stern and resembled a Bronco linebacker. The 17-inch bucketmouth weighed close to 2-1/2 or 3 pounds.
Bass jumped on the Senkos with regularity. The only question was when we hooked one was “What kind is it?” We caught more of all three species. Soon the sun started to bake so we called an end to the action-packed morning.
The combination of higher water levels, an abundance of forage, moderate weather and a multitude of game fish has Pueblo Reservoir on the verge of perfection for Colorado anglers.