By: Josh Sheldon
The first Colorado Walleye Association 2017 tournament (CWA) is in the books and like years before it was a GRRRRRRRIIIIIINNNNNNDDDDD! For those of you who are not familiar with this Denver metro area reservoir, it is 880 acres (water surface) in size and is fed by a tributary of the South Platte…Cherry Creek. This busy little body of water has a max depth of about 25 feet in an area of the reservoir referred to as the basin. There is an amazing amount of structure in this little reservoir which includes submerged road beds, trees, weed growth and rock humps. The lake has a healthy population of fish to include Walleye, Crappie, White Bass, Carp, Trout, Channel Catfish, Bluegill and Largemouth Bass. All of these fish feed on a huge population of gizzard shad and different aquatic bug hatches. The reservoir is considered one of three brood lakes used for spawning operations due to how big and how quickly the Walleyes grow. The lake has an 18 inch minimum size limit for walleyes, meaning you can’t keep anything under 18 inches. And that my friends is the rub! Welcome to Colorado; the land of 17 ¾ inch Walleye and the greatest challenge to overcome in all Colorado Walleye tournaments.
With the history lesson behind us, let’s talk fishing. Colorado Front Range has enjoyed a warmer and drier than average winter and early spring. The reservoirs have all spawned early and we are well into post spawn patterns. We all caught really big pre spawn walleyes when most the lakes opened March 1 and we have watched the night bite slow and the post spawn smaller males start to take over. This tournament was a direct reflection of this early season. The vast majority of fish caught and weighed were chunky healthy bruiser males. An 18 inch fish weighed over 2 pounds and a 19 inch fish was nearing three pounds. Pre fish seemed to stretch most of the week for many of us. The weather in the early part of the week was dry and stable and a good sized cold front moved into the state Thursday evening. The temperatures dropped 20 degrees to the upper 40’s for day time highs and the wind and some rain took over. The forecast for tournament weekend was supposed to be: a lingering shower in the morning with clearing skies and a high around 63 degrees. Sunday was clear skies and a high close to 80 degrees. If you don’t know Colorado weather, it gets stranger! We woke up to rain and snow and temps in the 30’s. It snowed on the field for all of check in and turned to rain for the launch. It rained till mid morning before the sun came out and the temps jumped into the mid to upper 60’s. The field went from winter coats and rain gear, to shorts and t-shirts by weight in.
Why am I telling you all this? I am setting the stage. Be patient. All of this was a factor. The problem is, I can’t tell you how much of a factor. That is the frustration of fishing Cherry Creek. It was snowing and raining and it seemed like everyone was catching fish. I know we were. The sun came out and the fish slowed way down for us. Now let’s get this out there right now; this is MY recap. Not a recap of what worked or what the winners did. This is what I saw and what we did to try and overcome some of the issues we had. So let’s break it down.
This lake and this tournament are well known as a trolling bite where most teams troll leadcore line and small crank baits. Number 4 flicker shad in darker colors is a favorite amongst guys who know the lake well. The idea is to set your baits and start moving through the smaller fish till you find a few keepers. This seems to be the winning formula. This strategy tends to favor those who go to church regularly and maybe that’s why I never do very well here. Every year my Partner Dan Swanson (Fishful Thinker guide, Ranger, Evinrude, St Croix, Berkley and Lowrance Pro) use this tournament as our warm up.
Dan usually has a new boat freshly rigged with the new toys Lowrance sent him. We use this tournament to work out any bugs and as a little kick in the ass to get our gear ready. We give it a day of prefish and rely on our All Eyes on Fishing team to help fill in some of the gaps. This year was no different. We prefished Wednesday because that was the last good weather day and we pulled out the kitchen sink and threw it in the boat. We tried everything but trolling cranks. We fished shallow and in the basin. We jigged, ran bottom bouncers and cast everything that vibrated and caught a total of three fish. A typical prefish day for us at Cherry Creek when we have fished this tournament in years past.
We decided to run a mix of different cranks for Saturday and we focused on the east side of the lake near the shallower waters of the swim beach. In prefish we noticed the water was a couple degrees warmer there and the fish seemed to be on the bottom near the break from 8 feet of water down to 16 feet of water. This tournament looks like a Nascar race with most boats trolling and weaving in and out of one another. The fish are exposed to a ton of pressure and that can have an effect on them. Another factor to take into account was a one day tournament the Saturday before where most of the same teams fished and more pressure was placed on the fish. We ran different styles and brands of crank baits, but the one that always seems to out produce is the Berkley flicker shads. Darker colors worked better then the lighter whites or silvers. I know teams caught fish on Salmo’s and Storm Smash Shads and others used swim baits. Every year it seems the trick to catching a good number of fish this time of year is whether or not you run you baits banging the bottom or just off the bottom. The next factor that seems to have some influence on numbers caught is the angle at which that bait bangs the bottom. Do you use a shorter leader of mono and create a steeper angle so that bait is diving with the bill banging the mud or do you use a longer leader and allow that bait more action and the occasional tick of the bottom on a flatter plane? The strategy seems to be; catch as many fish as you can and work your way through the numbers till you find a couple keepers. The randomness of the trolling patterns, the areas and depths that are covered do not suggest any one spot produced more keeper fish then the other.
We caught our first keeper on Saturday in the first four minutes and felt pretty good about the chunky male in the box. From that point on it was a parade of 16 and 17 inch fish. Day one produced around 20 walleye for us with only the one keeper at 2.74 pounds. We couldn’t establish a pattern to determine if fish preferred us beating the bottom or the cranks running just off the bottom. We caught fish doing both. With day one behind us, Sunday would prove to be more frustrating and confusing. Sunday was a slightly over cast day for a couple hours in the morning, until the sun broke through the clouds and the temps started to climb. We caught a few small fish immediately and then we couldn’t buy a fish. We watched boats scattering all over the lake which is a good indicator teams were looking for fish. We stuck to the south edge of the basin which appeared to be holding more fish. We would slip on top of the edge where the water went up to 12 feet and that is where we caught the majority of our fish. After a couple hours we hit a wall. The bite completely died and we started to mow through cranks looking for something different to establish a more successful pattern. We went for the reaction bite and put on a Smithwick Rogue on lead and dropped it to the bottom. We increased our speed to between 2.5 and 3 mph and started after the pods of basin fish we were marking.
It didn’t take long for us to catch a couple fish on that Rogue. We eventually ran three Rouges and all of our afternoon fish came on the Rogues. The interesting part about the presentation was the amount of lead needed to get down to 22 feet at the faster speed and the indicator for a fish wasn’t the typical bouncing rod, but the tip of the rod would quit vibrating and that was our indicator of a fouled lure or a fish. We opted for longer leaders to allow the bait good action and we burned up and down the lake. I would like to tell you this was the winning technique, but it didn’t produce any keepers. We boosted our catch numbers, but in the end we didn’t weigh a fish on Sunday.
The winners were more consistent like I spoke of in the article “The Philosophy That is Tournament Fishing”. They put together a pattern that was a little different in some way that produced more keeper fish. This body of water can commonly produce multiple 8 and 10 pounders for this tournament, but this year 5 pounds was the biggest Walleye weighed. This could have been the result of a warmer early spring or the amount of fishing pressure from hosing back to back tournaments. It’s hard to take away much from a tournament like this for us. We were once again impressed with the production of flicker shads and Smithwick Rogues. Leadcore can be a pain in the ass to troll and we ended up losing one full spool of lead with a massive tangle to put a solid end to Sunday. This tournament once again proves you have to fish your own pattern and concentrate on your own game. All the leaders were mixed in with every other boat in the tournament which takes away the idea of a honey hole. Patterns caught fish and won that tournament, nothing else. Congratulations to the top teams who fished very well and showed consistency is the key.
Next, Dan and I are on to Glendo, Wyoming May 13th and 14th for the first tournament of the Wyoming Walleye Stampede. As I type this we are all getting hammered with over a foot of snow on the ground. Hopefully the weather stabilizes over the next two weeks and we have some good fishing. Glendo is a large Reservoir with an impressive population of Walleye with winning weights that can resemble Great Lakes tournaments. Brad and Mitch are on their way to the next Colorado Walleye Association tournament at Pueblo Reservoir May 6th and 7th. All reports indicate the lake is on fire with good numbers of keeper Walleyes being caught. Pueblo Reservoir should produce some impressive numbers this year. Tournament #1 is in the books and 2017 is off to a good start! All Eyes will see you on the water and hopefully we are helping you…
FISH YOUR NEXT LEVEL.