Trophy Pike in the South Park Reservoirs of Colorado

Colorado pike gain weight from eating stocked trout and therefore have larger girths than most places.
Colorado pike gain weight from eating stocked trout and therefore have larger girths than most places.

By David Harrison

Who knew that the life cycle of the tiny damselfly would trigger one of the most exciting trophy Northern Pike bites possible?

Colorado pike respond to big swimbaits trolled on planer boards in April. In June, casting spinnerbaits becomes the rule. But for August and September rainbow trout surface feed on damselfly nymphs and the northern pike follow them.

Educated anglers throw normal-sized buzz baits over weed beds, covering water, exploring pockets; the same tactics you might be working at home for largemouth bass. The key difference is that when the bulge forms behind your lure the tail fin might be forty-inches behind the mouth and your bait will have to endure a row of pointed teeth.

Three reservoirs in the area of Colorado known as South Park contain millions of stocked trout which also happen to provide a high-protein smorgasboard for some of the largest Northern Pike in the state. Eleven mile Reservoir is the largest impoundment and has incredibly clear water. Spinney Mountain Reservoir consistently adds large Trout in the middle of the Pike action. Tiny Tarryall Reservoir hosts a large number of ice fishermen in the winter, but it is the summer when the Pike really feed. In fact, this time of year the poor Trout are gulped by Pike so often and so forcefully that you can count the splashes from each mature fish as he feeds throughout the morning.

A monster Pike from Eleven Mile Reservoir.
A monster Pike from Eleven Mile Reservoir.

Local guide Nathan Zelinsky used these commotions to determine that the average 40” Northern Pike feeds three or four times before sulking off to digest. He says, “These Pike back so far into the weeds that they use the tip of their mouth to feel their prey. Only high-vibration lures consistently pull the beasts from their hiding. If you visited the lake consistently for a week and watched for surface explosions the biggest fish would give up all of their locations.”

With this story told, Nathan often waits for the first splash before casting. An expert at anchoring he uses the wind to guide his 21-foot Lund into position. At this point he hands his clients a 7-foot Medium Heavy Fenwick spinning rod and instructs them to keep casting to a point a few feet beyond the site of the recent ambush. Sometimes it takes thirty minutes, sometimes it takes three hours, but eventually that pike will feed again.

At this point things seem simple. We revealed the lure. We know the fish sits in the weeds right in front of us. Boat control no longer matters because you are anchored. But you need to keep casting, and casting, and casting to that same spot with upmost confidence. At some point your mind begins to waver and some clients surrender to the monotony. Nathan’s story from one day’s trip explains what it takes to outlast the largest of the Pike.

“One angler started pausing between casts. Eventually, he slumped into the boat chair for a rest. Negative thoughts had consumed him. He wanted to move spots. He wanted to change lures. I propped him up for a few more casts. He slumped again, his mind defeated. I told him three more casts. Halfheartedly, he made the effort. On the second retrieve the fish struck with a violent splash and immediately the energy of the fish revived my friend who expertly waited to set the hook and fought the fish perfectly.”

A buzzbait top water double from Tarryall Reservoir.
A buzzbait top water double from Tarryall Reservoir.

All of this without a mention of the three mountain ranges in the area including six of the highest peaks in the state. The resort town of Breckenridge is twenty minutes from the central town of Fairplay offering a large array of accommodations and additional activities. For the ambitious, a day of hiking followed by a day of fishing repeated for the better part of a week makes for a wonderfully balanced vacation. If you still have energy the South Park Bowl combines 6 lanes of bowling with world-renowned tamales. For others, just make the 70-minute drive from Denver for the day and enjoy the moderate temperatures (think 70’s), blue skies, and, of course, big Pike.

Multi-species guide Nathan Zelinsky (www.tightlineoutdoors.com) specializes in Colorado Walleye, Pike, Trout, Bass, Wiper, Carp, Perch, and Catfish. David Harrison runs the fishing half of the 1100-person Skyline Hunting and Fishing Club.

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