View Full Version : 2018 Blue Mesa Kokanee Fishing Report

04-10-2018, 05:43 PM
Kokanee fishing has started at Blue Mesa. Since we focus on Lake Powell during April and early May (and donít like to switch back and forth between mussel contaminated Powell and mussel free Blue Mesa), I havenít yet been out on the lake but Iíll share some of the info provided by friends who are some of the better known guides on Blue Mesa.

Winter pretty much passed us by this year and water levels will be a concern this summer. The Mesa is currently at 7482 ft, about 9 ft below last year on this day and 37 ft below last summerís high. The big concern is that the snow pack is running about 50% of last year. The Iola Basin froze this winter but the Cebolla Basin (middle) and Sapinaro Basin (dam area) did not. As a result, the trophy mackinaw fishermen have been on the water for several weeks. Guides tell me that when their mac fishermen get bored they have found the kokanee fishing to be good, with lots of healthy fish and fairly easy limits in Sapinaro.

Mussel inspection has been open at the Lake Fork ramp (at the dam) for several weeks and current hours are 6:30 am to 4 pm daily. Inspections will open at the Elk Creek ramp on April 19, with daily hours from 6 am to 8 pm. The number for the Elk Creek Visitorís Center is 970-641-2337.

Current conditions are mild, with lows typically in the 20s and highs in the 50s and sometimes 60s. Keep in mind this is Gunnison, one of the nationís cold spots, so conditions can deteriorate quickly. Early afternoon winds are the norm. Kokanee tackle is available at Gene Taylor Sporting Goods and several of the young dudes working at the store are experienced kokanee guides willing to share insight and strategies. I can also strongly recommend Robbie Richardson at Sport Fish Colorado for those who want a shot at a state record mac or limits of kokanees. Iíll be able to provide more detailed info once we start fishing Blue Mesa and I plan to provide regular updates throughout the summer. If you have questions, please respond here and Iíll do my best to keep readers up to date.

Old'n still learning
05-01-2018, 11:57 AM
Did well on Fri and Sat. Found fish from surface down to 42', but mostly around 18'-26'. Pink squids did real well, but lots of hits on red and green lures and squids/planktons too. Several fat healthy fish. Looks to be a good year. Concentrated on Cebolla to Lake Fork. Glass in the morning, but wind came up in the afternoon as usual.

05-04-2018, 04:52 PM
Thanks for the update Old'n still learning. It always helps to hear what is working for others as we sometimes fall into a rut and don't think to try different things.

One week ago today Mary and I were returning to Bullfrog at Lake Powell after 6 days fishing and boat camping up the San Juan. After decontaminating the boat and getting it ready for salmon fishing, we inspected and launched yesterday and fished Blue Mesa for the first time Friday Morning. Life is good.

It was the usual first trip comedy of errors today. A downrigger cable with a large snap swivel somehow became misthreaded on the downrigger pulley (this appears to be impossible) and had to be cut and retied. I missed a line guide on one rod and the first fish of the day ďuntiedĒ the knot Iíd tied the day before. The gas line on the kicker appeared to be plugged into the motor but wasnít quite connected and the kicker wouldnít start even after being soundly cursed. The new lead core line insisted on creating birds nests. If you canít laugh at yourself on days like this you shouldnít be a fisherman.

We started late this morning thinking we might have a few problems and wanting daylight to handle remedies. Air temp at Elk Creek Marina was 28F and water temp was 48F at 6 am. We needed, but didnít have, an ice scraper for the boat windshield after the boat spent the night in the slip. We fished the Bay of Chickens in the Cebolla basin and finished on the Cebolla Creek channel. Fishing was slow but we caught and released 4 or 5 small salmon in addition to those in the photo below. Every color (pink, orange, yellow and purple) produced fish in about equal numbers. Lead core, with about 40 Ė 50 ft of mono leader, produced at 2 Ė 3 colors and downriggers produced best at 17, 19 and 23 ft (when reasonable, I set my downriggers to prime numbers).

The ten fish weighed 13 pounds total. The largest fish weighed 1.5 pounds and measured just under 16 inches. Four of the larger fillets weighed 1.5 pounds, skin on, so the two fillets on a fish run about 50% of the total mass of a kokanee salmon. The last three photos appear to me to show signs of predation by large mackinaws. The marks on these fish certainly werenít from our rubber landing net but I suppose the scratches could have been caused by fishing line during the tussle to land them. Iíd much appreciate any insight readers can provide regarding what else might have caused these marks and wounds. Iíve been hearing lately that our kokanee show signs of gill lice but I didnít see any on these fish. It is great to be fishing Blue Mesa again and tonightís dinner menu features BBQed salmon with tequila-lime marinade. Fish On.


05-10-2018, 06:24 PM
Blue Mesa remains very low and dock hands tell me they expect it to drop another 5 - 8 feet. Air temperature was 34F at the Marina and water temperature in Cebolla was 51F this morning. Every one is talking about how wonderful the weather is in Gunnison right now but afternoons are often very windy. By fishing early we are able to avoid the wind entirely.

After slow kokanee fishing for us during last weekend's fishing tournament, fishing today was a little faster and the fish were serious fighters. This year's spawners are averaging 1.3 pounds and 15 inches in length. The fishing are fat and healthy but we are seeing gill lice on some fish. We fished in Cebolla, starting at the power line and following the channel into the Bay of Chickens. We started the early morning with down riggers set at 19 and 23 but ended the day setting at 31 and 35. Lead core line was out 2 - 4 colors, going deeper as the sun rose. Downriggers were hotter than lead core today, probably because the fish have moved a little deeper. Light pink and orange were our best colors.

I've been thinking about how to share how good or slow the fishing is on Blue Mesa and thought I'd try the following four statistics: We fished today from 5:30 to 8:15, lines in the water. We hoped for our limit, 10 fish, for our dinner and for friends who are hosting relatives. We fished for 2.75 hours, or 165 minutes, to catch our 10 salmon so we averaged 3.6 kokanee per hour and 16.5 minutes between salmon. We also caught 2 small salmon and 6 small brown trout, all released, so for the 18 fish we caught in total, we averaged 6.5 fish per hour and we averaged a fish every 9.2 minutes. This isn't fast enough on average to keep you jumping (although we had a successful triple today that kept us busy for a while) but it isn't slow enough to get boring either. I'm guessing we may get down to a fish every 5 minutes by June. I'm also curious what the catch rate is like for other fishermen.


05-18-2018, 04:00 PM
Blue Mesa Reservoir remains very low at 7480 ft, about 28 ft below the level one year ago. Air temp on the way to the lake was 29F this morning and the water temp in Iola was 56F. Water splashed on the transom froze this morning, as it has the past several mornings we have fished.

Fishing this morning was slow. The past few trips we averaged about 7 minutes per fish, ranging from 5.9 to 8.3 minutes per fish. This morning we averaged 19.6 minutes per fish and we were catching too many small kokanees and trout. The average fish this morning was only 1.28 pounds, down from slightly over 1.5 pounds the past several trips. The fish-of-the-day only weighed 1.47 pounds. We have noticed several fish in recent days with evidence of attempted predation. We eventually moved from the area in front of the breakwater at the north shore ramp in Iola, which had been very hot for us until recently, to the area where Iola opens up into a basin. The fishing was better here and there were 10 - 12 boats working this area.

There was no discernable pattern to depth or lure color. We were having better luck on lead core (3.5 - 4.5 colors) than on downriggers (23 - 43, with best results around 30ft), which seems to be consistent with slower fishing. Earlier in the morning orange and pink lures were the better performers and by midmorning a bright candy corn lure and a blue and green lure were better producers. While I didn't see any boats knocking them dead this morning, several boats were clearly out fishing us, so what was a very slow day for us may have been much better for other boats.


05-22-2018, 05:28 PM
Fishing at Blue Mesa has been good over the past week, so fishermen planning a Holiday trip should find very good salmon and trout fishing. It appears the weather will also be cooperating. Please remember that strong winds are the norm every afternoon. Some people like to catch salmon early in the morning and after cleaning salmon and getting them on ice, go back out for browns and mackinaws until the wind makes fishing unpleasant or until nap time calls.

Until quite recently, mornings have been cool enough to freeze splashed water on the transom. Water temperatures in Iola continue to inch upward, about four degrees in the past two weeks. As expected, salmon are moving deeper with higher water temperatures. Two weeks ago, when I started keeping more accurate catch information, fish caught on downriggers were on average 30 feet deep but most recently were at 36 feet. Earlier the downrigger set at 27 ft popped most often but lately Iíve had better luck at 31 and 37 feet. My data show fish caught on lead core were mostly 3 Ė 4 colors but more recently weíve had better success at 4 Ė 5 colors, or even deeper. Our catch data show that during the past two weeks weíve averaged a caught fish every 6.9 minutes, with most days falling in a range from 3.9 minutes per fish to 9.2 minutes between fish. Since this time includes setting lines, losing fish, catching fish, and releasing or bleeding out fish, we stay busy and we have a double or triple most days. We had one terrible day, described in the previous report, but I put it down to simply failing to find the right fishing pattern in terms of location, lure, depth, speed, etc. Some days we stumble. Today we caught a fish, on average, every 3.9 minutes and that included two episodes where downrigger fish tangled into the lead core and required a lengthy sorting out before we were fishing again. It was a blast. We were fishing where the canyon opens up into the Iola basin on the west end.

Having accurate data about the catch for the last two weeks has led to an interesting discovery; one lure has caught nearly 50% of the salmon. While I knew my blue and white lure was doing well, I underappreciated its effectiveness. Orange has accounted for just over 25% and a candy corn colored assassin behind a rainbow dodger and a pink assassin each got 13%. Candy Corn has been coming on stronger in recent days.

Earlier we had good luck in front of the breakwater on the south Iola shore boat ramp (which isnít open) but more recently weíve had our best luck fishing the area at the west end of the Iola basin, just as the canyon opens up into the basin. We drove to Montrose at about 10:30 am recently and counted more boats in Cebolla than Iola. Cebolla boats were fishing around the power lines, Bay of Chickens, the Cebolla channel and the Iron Works jigging area. We saw only 2 boats in Sapinero. We havenít fished either basin recently.

Since the start of our season in early May, our salmon have averaged 1.35 pounds. Although there is some evidence that the average weight in increasing, there has been very high variability in average weight daily catches; a couple of extra small fish has a big effect on the average weight. More recently, the fish-of-the-day have been hitting 16Ē and 1.9 pounds and the average has been hitting 1.5 pounds.

Against my better judgement Iíve included photos of blue and white lures below so there wonít be confusion about this hot lure. This started as a Rocky Mtn Tackle Hornet but I always retie lures using 25 pound leader and a #6 Gamakatsu EWG treble hook. In some cases Iíve replaced the clear beads that came with the lure with white glow-in-the-dark beads but canít say that either the clear beads or glow beads have been superior. The reason Iím hesitant to share too much lure information is because Iíve learned too often that what works for me wonít necessarily work for others and vice-versa. Small differences in leader length (12Ē or shorter for me), speed (1.1 Ė 1.3 mph) and depth can make a joke of any specific lure info I can provide. Gene Taylors in Gunny has a very good stock of koke, trout and mackinaw lures. This will be a good weekend to fish and camp at Blue Mesa. Contact me by email or phone if you are at the lake this weekend and have questions or are looking for up to date information. 970-642-0732


05-30-2018, 05:10 PM

Please contact me at mrhudson200@gmail.com. I replied to your message but think I goofed it up and don't see that it was sent.


06-05-2018, 01:41 PM
Fishing at Blue Mesa remains mostly hot, especially the first hour or so after day break. And, of course, there is an occasional slower day, particularly it seems if you have guests aboard, as we experienced Sunday with new friends from the Kokanee Fishing Forum.

This morning the air temperature was 37F and water temperature in Iola was 58F. Water temp is rising very slowly, perhaps affected by the low run-off this year. Sunday morning fishing was quite slow, averaging 10.6 minutes per fish. Monday and Tuesday were substantially better, averaging 4.0 and 5.0 minutes per fish respectively. The fishing rate was probably about the same both days but this morning's fish-of-the-day managed to tangle 3 of the 4 downrigger lines so badly the only solution involved scissors, new leaders and lots of new knots. Still, when fishing is this hot our friends and neighbors get plenty of fish, so who can complain? The last two days our fish averaged 1.45 and 1.48 pounds respectively and we caught our first 2 pound fish of the year on Monday.

Blue beads, interspersed with white glow beads, remain the hottest lures but are rapidly being overtaken by red and white glow beads. We've elected to fish with 4 stacked DR lines the last couple of mornings and not use lead core, with the bottom lines set at 33 ft and 37 ft. The stacked lines, probably around 26 ft and 30 ft, have been hotter than the bottom lines by a factor of nearly 3 to 1, which suggests we've probably been a little too deep with our downriggers previously.

We continue to fish the area just east of Dry Creek with great success but have noticed the guides tend to be fishing near the breakwater at the south shore boat ramp in Iola, which is now open. A slip neighbor at the marina, who loves to eat mackinaws, reports having great success in Cebolla fishing deep (65 - 85 ft) using green lures and dodgers. He showed us a photo yesterday of a 4-5 pound mac he had caught with the tail of a 6 inch koke still visible down its gullet. There is no limit on mackinaws at Blue Mesa and authorities recommend killing all macs caught.

It is a good time to be fishing Blue Mesa.


06-17-2018, 07:18 PM
Salmon fishing on Blue Mesa has been excellent for pretty much all summer, with a few slower days and a few unbelievably hot mornings. We have averaged a fish every 9.4 minutes while fishing this summer, including a couple of really slow days (19.6 and 18.6 minutes per fish) and some extremely active days (3.4 and 3.9 minutes per fish). The last time we fished, the middle of last week, we experienced pretty much average fishing, at 8.6 minutes per fish. We continue to fish the area from the Dry Creek picnic area to the western end of the Iola Basin. On our most recent trip the air temperature was up to 47F and the water temperature was 62F. The fish-of-the-day was 2 pounds and 17 inches. The average salmon is slowly increasing, up to 1.5 pounds on recent trips. We keep smaller, badly hooked fish that others might release, and this drags down our average a little.

Keeping a record this year of fish caught has provided better insight into what color lures are working. As shown below, this bar chart shows that blue and white bead/spinner lures account for over 35% of all fish we've caught this season. Orange was the second best color earlier in the year but red and white bead/spinner lures have proven better at times. For the last 3 or 4 trips a watermelon kokanee killer trailing (15 inches) a leaf shaped watermelon dodger has caught nearly 50% of our fish.


Keep in mind there are serious flaws in these statistics. A statistician would tell us that when calculating odds of a random event happening, such as hooking a fish with a lure, the sampling (in this case fishing) has to be done independently. In other words, if you really want to know what lures work best, we would need (at the least) to fish every color lure at every depth for the entire fishing trip so that each color had an equal opportunity to catch a fish. In my case, when I find a color that is working really well I tend to double down, trying the same color at the original or a new depth. The other day after fishing for 45 minutes and changing out lures, I had four lines on stacked downriggers, two blue and two watermelon lures. My statistics might lead me to conclude that red and orange are less successful right now, and that seems to be the case when I've had them in the water recently. But it is also true that with mostly blue and watermelon lures in the water, most of our catch will be on those colors. Duh! It is easy to lie with statistics, and I might have done so once or twice when trying to convince a backward administrator to increase a budget, but I don't lie with statistics to myself or others about something as important as fishing.

We like taking others out for an early morning of fishing but when we tell them we like to arrive at the marina (25 minutes from town) by 4:30 am, lots of people are able to turn down the offer. We claim there is an early morning bite, followed by much slower fishing; others say "no way" and like to start at 8 am after a good night's sleep and breakfast. The second chart below also has serious sampling and independence problems but I think it conveys an important truth about the morning bite on Blue Mesa. A website provides the local "twilight" time each day and I converted the time each fish is caught to the number of minutes after twilight (negative values are before twilight, aka, pitch black) using my Excel spreadsheet. I put the minutes after twilight in 10 minute categories, so that the 35 minute bar shows fish caught from 30 to 40 minutes after twilight. Twilight last Wednesday was 5:11 am, so this corresponds to fish caught from 5:41 to 5:51 am.


Why the smaller bars at the 25 and 45 minute marks? If we hook up a double or triple at the 15 minute after twilight mark, which is quite common for us when fishing is really hot, by the time we land the fish, release trout and some smaller salmon, bleed out the keepers and get them on ice, corn the hooks, reset all four lines on stacked downriggers, etc., we've used up a good chunk of the next 10 minute window with no lures in the water. This is an example of lack of independence; catching lots of fish in one 10 minute window decreases the opportunities to catch fish in the following 10 minute window. We often catch our limit and stop fishing 80 - 90 minutes after twilight, so we don't typically fish 180 minutes after twilight. But while the data are clearly affected by sampling issues and have to be taken with a grain of salt, we're convinced enough about the early bite to get us out of bed at 3:30 am.

These are good days to be fishing Blue Mesa and 5 am is a good time to put blue and watermelon lures in the water. Good Luck.

06-23-2018, 01:22 PM
Friday morning on the way to our boat we passed a friend who asked, "Don't you think fishing has slowed down a little?" We agreed. Fishing Friday morning was pretty good from 5 to 6 am, when we averaged a fish every 7 minutes. From 6 to 7 am we waited 12 minutes on average between fish. A few days previously the disparity was even greater; 3 minutes between fish from 5 to 6 am and 29 minutes on average between fish from 6 to 8:45 am. The lesson for us is to get out early and try to avoid tangled lines when fishing is the hottest; not always easy with doubles in the dark.

This morning the air temperature at Never Sink was 54F and water temperature in Cebolla was 64F. The lake has dropped about 2 ft in the last two weeks and is currently 31 ft lower than one year ago. We fished the Cebolla channel this morning but noted on way back to town there were about 15 boats working the area about 1 mile down lake from Old Stevens. There we roughly 25 boats in Cebolla when we left but they were working a much larger area, primarily the Bay of Chickens and the Cebolla channel. We caught roughly half our fish on blue/white beads and half on white/glow beads, with one fish on an orange kokanee killer on lead core out 7 colors. The fish were hitting blue at 43 ft and later at 57 ft; white was best at 39 ft and later at 53 ft. We tried a usually reliable red followed by a usually reliable watermelon for the entire hour and fifty minutes of fishing without a bite on either. Our fish today averaged 1.57 pounds, the highest of the year so far, but the largest fish was only 1.68 pounds -- nice carbon copy fish. Gusty, strong winds are still the norm, starting in the late morning and continuing through the afternoon.

If you are considering a trip to Blue Mesa over the holiday and have questions, please post them here or through a private message and I'll do my best to help make your trip more successful. I expect to post again around the 27th or 28th or so assuming we get out again by then.

06-25-2018, 12:47 PM
We had 2 boats going over the weekend. And we came in cold and figured it out by Saturday night. Fish were deep and picky! Nice fish with many at 17" +/-. Threw back multiple shorts say under 14" knowing there are better fish out there. But we had to work for them. Wind pushed most boats off the water by late morning. Evening bite was when we did the best in the river around Hay Stack and east. Anything to stay out of the wind! Thanks for the tips kokanee64 and open info, I'm making an order today for the next trip. I like the heavier line and treble idea. Got busted off at the net with one I wanted in the box. And most fish un-hook themselves as soon as you get them in the net or on the floor! Picture of my Saturday evening daily limit, caught over 3 hours.


06-25-2018, 04:14 PM
Happy to hear of your success mrpike16 and glad the wind didn't blow you away. Sounds like you were in Iola. My wife said this morning as we were heading in from Cebolla with smaller fish than yours (1.5 lb avg and largest at 1.67 lb) that she thinks the fish were bigger in Iola -- I'd have to agree given your experience.

What a difference a few days and a location change can make for lure colors. Since you're thinking of ordering stuff for maybe another trip to BM, thought you would like to know that we started catching fish on the lure shown below and ALL of our most recent 20 fish have been on that lure. I'm using 25 lb line now cause it holds up better to plier nicks, etc. We've been catching at 43, 47, 51, 53 and 57 ft on downriggers, with 47 and 51 the more reliable depths. Before sun up I charge the glow beads and dodger w/ my lead lamp for about 20 seconds and have to work fast to keep a lure in the water. After sun up the bite slows some but the white glow beads and dodger have certainly been a pleasant surprise for us.


When you fish in the evening, is the bite fastest during twilight, right before dark?

Hope you get back to the Mesa soon and teach those kokes a few more lessons. I'm guessing jigging will start in earnest in about 3 weeks.

06-29-2018, 02:54 AM
Home projects demanded our attention recently and we haven't been out morning fishing since the previous report, but I hear from good sources that kokanee fishing remains excellent in both the Iola and Cebolla basins. We were at the marina about 7 pm today on a boat errand and went out on a whim even though the lake was showing pretty good whitecaps. During the higher wind periods we set up to drift through areas we wanted to fish and when the wind subsided some we motored to keep our speed around 1.3 mph. We averaged a fish every 12 minutes for about 1 hour, not as fast as the best morning fishing but exciting enough. The wind was brisk but tolerable; at least when drifting steering isn't a big chore. Good luck to those fishing Blue Mesa over the weekends around the 4th.

07-11-2018, 03:40 PM
After 10 days with almost no fishing, we fished Cebolla channel at first light and did pretty well; we wrapped up our two person limit about 8 am after several lost fish. Best lures were blue/white beads, white glow beads and red/white beads and we caught fish from 63 ft to 42 ft, with the most strikes at 53ft. When fishing this deep, experience has taught us to only stack two rods on one downrigger and use one rod on the second downrigger to avoid like tangles, props, etc. Truth be told, when fishing at 50+ ft deep we do as well with only one rod per downrigger -- two rods will often outfish 3 rods, as odd as that sounds.

We are moving into peak summer, with 4:30 am air temp at 52F and water temps approaching 70F. As a result, fish are moving deeper and fishing has slowed down a little. On the other hand, fish continue to grow and the average weight today exceeded 1.6 lb for the first time. We had several fish in the 2 lb, 17 inch range. The eggs in the females haven't shown much growth yet (no caviar for a while) but the sperm sacks in some of the males are beginning to enlarge. We've been seeing the beginnings of hook jaws and humped backs for several weeks. I wouldn't be surprised to hear right now of successful jigging for fish on the bottom in Iola. We cruised through the Iron Works today a little after 8 am when we were done with fishing and saw plenty of fish from 75 to 85 ft. It was too early in the morning to expect to see schools. I expect jigging to start soon and be hot 2 - 3 weeks from now. As part of preparing for that day, I brought a couple of reels home today so I can tie in 2 ft of yellow PowerPro line at the 80 ft mark and I'm going to check that my transducer is pointed straight down on my next trip. The next 6 weeks will be a good time to fish Blue Mesa.

07-18-2018, 03:48 PM
Jigging for schooled up kokanee salmon on Blue Mesa has started, almost, maybe, sort of.

The air temp driving past Old Stevens this morning at 5 am was 49F and the water temp at the Iron Work in Cebolla was just shy of 70F. The last couple of times out we've found fishing somewhat slow until nearly 6 am, followed by pretty active catching, and by 7:30 am fishing becomes very slow. We boated 7 nice salmon and a couple of nasty mackinaws during the active window and didn't hang around to see whether jigging would turn on. Our best lures were white glow beads and blue/white glow beads and we caught fish early in the active window at 47 ft, 53 ft and 61 ft. When the sun came up we caught fish lower, at 67, 77 and 83 ft. The lake is quite low; according to the local paper, at 7469 ft (52% of full pool) the lake is at its 3rd lowest ever and a dock hand (who was busy moving the docks and store into deeper water) told me the plan is to drop another 25 ft by the end of October. We are already 51 ft below full pool and down 12 ft since early June 2018. There is plenty of green algae near the surface and the lake seems warm. It is currently 4F warmer than one year ago today.

The last several fishing trips we've noticed LOTS of salmon in Cebolla around the Iron Works area and LOTS of boats. It looks like everything in Gunnison that floats is poised on the lake to jig salmon. We've been told by a reliable friend that jigging was good last weekend but not good at all on Monday or Tuesday. RK from Kansas, one of the best amateur jiggers, reported that he and a friend finally caught their first 4 jigged salmon Tuesday after striking out for several days in a row. He also reported that they couldn't buy a bite until they started using lights. The guy I consider the best guide on the lake still hasn't jigged up any salmon but his party caught over 20 fish trolling recently using the same lure colors that are working for us. Jigging time is coming but in my opinion it isn't here yet. There are lots of fish and they are beginning to coalesce but they are more like study groups or classrooms than schools. If I were advising friends I would encourage them to delay a visit to BM until July 27 or even a week later if the strategy is to jig. Of course, if a trip is now or never, trolling is mostly good to excellent and the jigging could be red hot as I write this post.

A word of warning: because of the low water, the tops of long-dead trees left along the Gunnison channel are approaching 75 - 80 ft water depth and they look just like a school of fish. We often zoom in on just the relevant depths and pay little attention to what is happening below 100 ft. We paid a price for that today. So when the wife said she saw a school of fish from 70 ft to the bottom of the sonar screen, I was ready with downriggers at 75 and 79 ft. Then she scrolled down and yelled, "TREES!!" and I tried to bring up both weights. We lost one lure/dodger setup and the other one brought up a long sunken lure that was apparently hanging on the top of the tree. We were lucky not to lose weights, which only hung up temporarily. Usually, but not always, schooled salmon in deep water around the Iron Work are suspended and you ought to be able see both the top and bottom of a suspended school. A tree looks like a fuzzy telephone pole stretching from the bottom, perhaps at 110 ft, to the top at 70 ft. The exception is when a school is on the bottom, perhaps in 70 - 90 ft of water. In this case schools look like humps on the bottom but the color/density will appear different than the bottom line in most cases. I think we are seeing too many salmon very deep, well below the 80 ft area where they traditionally hang out this time of year. Perhaps what we are seeing is just trees and junk but it sure likes like fish to us. We are worried that low water and high water temps are forcing the fish deep. Several years ago during a period of low water, oxygen level became quite low and the fish exhibited plenty of strange behavior. Keep your fingers crossed, your lines tight and avoid those trees.

07-18-2018, 08:01 PM
Thanks for the report. it is greatly appreciated. I will be heading down from GJ early on Monday. We usually fish in Cebolla although I did fish Iola a couple of weeks ago and only caught 3. It was my first time in Iola but I wanted to give it a try. Can you please tell me what/where the Iron Works is? I'll tie up some spinners with the white RG beads and give those a try too. Thanks again. Jim

07-19-2018, 11:21 PM

I continue to see people fishing Iola but Iola is so shallow now and the water so filled with algae, I wouldn't bother to fish around Old Stevens. Perhaps the canyon areas just east of the Elk Creek Marina is worth investigating.

Cebolla seems to be the destination for most fishers the last couple of weeks and the Iron Works area, see photo below, is the only place most people are investigating thoroughly. This area is where the Gunnison river channel is close and roughly parallel to Highway 50 on the north shore of the Cebolla basin. You can see several boats clustered up over a school of salmon. The hills for a mile or so west of the steel structure supporting the highway are worth watching for big horn sheep. 9488

As jigging becomes better, the scrum becomes thicker and tempers sometimes flare because only boats directly over the school are catching fish and unless the school is huge, most people are not over fish. People start getting frustrated and forget their manners. Think of it like this... You prepare a wonderful picnic basket and take your family to an empty picnic table in the local community park. Three other parties immediately descend on your table, and one party moves your picnic basket to one end of the table and make themselves at home at the other end. The other two parties hover over your shoulder and when you pick up your basket to distribute the food to your family, a hovering "guest" places his basket where your's once set. The third "guest" askes if you have any potato salad to share. How does one respond to this? As Jerry Garcia said, "We can share the women, we can share the wine. We can share what we got of yours cause we done shared all of mine."

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Most of the boaters jigging for fish can't locate and park directly over a school of fish, which can be somewhat depressing to watch. A surprising number don't even look at their sonar screens. They "hunt for fish with binoculars", as a guide told me, by watching other boats catching fish; then they descend. Several years back we decided to never approach other boats fishing over a school and when boats descend on us, we pick up and find another school. If we don't, we get surrounded as shown in the photos above, and can't even get out of the scrum when the fish have moved from under us. Most times this works out OK for us and we are able to catch 1-3 fish from a school before being shoved out of the way to find another Some days we don't find another school before the wind picks up. Some days, when I throw a marker buoy out near fish we drove over and start circling back around to get right over the fish, other boats race me for my buoy. A guy once roared in on plane, did an emergency stop, picked up my buoy and started jigging. When I got through his wake and was close enough to ask for my buoy back, the guy said, "you ought to see the big school we just found." On those days I have to recall my mother's advice about good manners. I'm happy to share pretty much everything I know about jigging salmon, in part, because I'm an educator and that's what I do, and in part, because it means more boats can find their own salmon and fewer boats follow me around. If you look at last year's fishing reports, I provided quite a lot of info about jigging, and I'll be proving more once we start jigging. Best of luck on your upcoming trip. Trolling is still pretty good during the short early morning window using glow beads by themselves or paired with red, blue or orange beads. Try shallower in the morning (47 - 60) and deeper as light increases (60 - 90).

PS. Mary thinks the bigger fish are deeper, but it is a real dog's breakfast down there. There are more trees on the east end of the iron works area than the west end. Tight lines. Roger

07-19-2018, 11:47 PM
Roger: thanks for the info. I have fished along the highway where the old river channel is located just didn't know the term "iron works". I am anxious to try jigging when the time is right. I really don't want to get into a "boating scrum" though. I do have my sonar (Lowrance HDS7) networked with my trolling motor so I can mark a school on the chart and have the trolling motor anchor at the marked location. It then has a jog feature where I can move 5 feet in any direction. I used this at Lake Powell fishing for smallmouth and walleye this spring and it worked pretty well. I have a new Shimano line counter reel that I will need to calibrate before I try jigging. We just plan to troll on Monday. Not sure where we will go because I'll be in my friend's boat and he will be in charge of where to fish. thanks again for sharing information. Jim

07-24-2018, 06:10 PM
Went to Blue Mesa Monday. I did catch my limit including a couple of 18" whose jaws are starting to hook. There was a scrum of boats in Cebolla who were jigging. Talked to a guy at the fish cleaning station who said that they caught theirs jigging with Crippled Herring jigs. We trolled and most fish were caught at 65' or so. We caught several trolling around the middle bridge. Green seemed to be the best color that we used. Jim

07-25-2018, 06:38 PM
Nice to hear that Jim and his party did well on Monday. It was interesting that green was a good color for them as we haven't caught many fish on green this summer. Of course, we don't often fish green because my wife is convinced, and maybe me too, that we catch more small lake trout on green and Mary hates them.

We trolled this morning around the Iron Works in Cebolla. We had one bite (missed) before the sun was shining on the water but once the sun cleared the mesa we had a brief flurry during which we boated 4 nice salmon and lost a couple more. Then we managed to tangle all of our lines and nearly run our DR weights aground while messing with the tangle. By the time the scissors cleared the tangle and we were reset back in deep water, the trolling bite was pretty much over. We had our best luck with white glow beads and red/white glow beads, dragging them through small schools at 80 ft. Caught a couple of small macs hanging out with the salmon. The sea gulls appeared to enjoy them for breakfast.

We put away the trolling gear and set up to jig. The school seemed quite small but after working it for about 30 minutes it looked larger, both vertically and horizontally, on the sonar screen and we had boated 6 more salmon for our 2 person limit. There are lots of small schools around the Iron Works, mostly at 80ish feet deep. The bite was slow at first but picked up and I thought we could have put 10 more in the boat in 30 minutes if we hadn't already limited. We use Luhr Jensen 1.5 oz Crippled Herrings, white glow w/ green stripe, tipped with corn, although when Mike from Montrose pulled up next to us to fish I noticed his crew was using an assortment of sizes and colors of jigs, and they were doing as well as us. Most people are using lights 6 - 18 inches above their lures. The schools look more like study groups but if it is calm enough to stay on them, the fishing can get pretty hot. It was a fun day on the water and the fish are now cleaned, packaged and all have been delivered to friends and neighbors for tonight's dinner. Life is good in Colorado.

ps. If like us you want to cut the braided line on your jigging rod and tie in a piece of yellow braided line to act as an 80 ft marker, the aggregate plates on the marina dock are 36 inches long, so 27 of them gives you the 80 ft and an extra foot for knots.

08-03-2018, 02:56 AM
Vertically jigging for salmon around the Iron Works in the Cebolla basin has been hot for the past 10 days or so. We see lots of small schools and when we take a fish from a small school, the commotion sometimes attracts near-by salmon and the school begins to grow. Finding the schools isn't difficult. It helps to know that the school will likely be centered around 85 ft deep. Because the lake is so low right now, and the tops of trees sometimes look like schools of salmon at 85 ft deep, it helps to be able to quickly zoom out to see whether the object is suspended or connected to the bottom.


We watched this scrum form in just a few minutes. Boats directly over the school can catch quickly while boats at the edges are hoping the salmon move under them or that they pick up fish playing hooky. Fortunately, there are so many small schools that it is easy right now to find another and start feeling hits. There are also more people who can find and work a school of salmon this year, so in addition to the scrums we also see solo boats and groups of 2 - 4 boats which are catching salmon. We've been able to fish mostly solo so far this year, and its hasn't been uncommon to find fish away from the crowd and fish one school solo for 30 minutes. Nothing lasts forever, but if fishing gets too crowded its been easy to find another school. Fish seem to us to be running small but we haven't weighed a catch for several trips.

I've been trying to look up more and have noticed that lots of the jiggers in boats around us are jerking their rod tips up several feet and then letting the lure fall slack line back down. When I do that I get too many foul hooked fish, plus it wears me out. My jigging action is usually just to tighten and loosen my hand grip, making the rod tip wiggle a little. Sometimes I lift slowly for a few inches only and then drop the lure back down. When I haven't felt any activity for a while, I slowly raise the rod tip nearly as high as I can. Then I drop the tip about 2 feet at just the speed the lure will fall, so I can keep the line a little bit tight. If weight goes off the line, a fish has picked up the lure. If nothing happens, drop another 2 ft or so, exploring a 10 ft range of the water column. We have second rod permits and today we fished with 3 rods, one a dead stick rigged identically to the other two but just dropped to about the 88 foot level and put in a rod holder. It had three or four hits and two conversions. When the wife was netting a fish for me, her rod went off and was a conversion, so 30 percent of our fish today came from dead stick rods. When we step away from a rod, we adjust the amount of line out so the lure is at the target level when the rod is in the holder.

Below is the Iron Work at 8:30 am last Wednesday morning. As you can see here, local and regional fires are making the skies as smoky as I can remember.


I spoke briefly with a guy on the dock today, carrying a bag with several nice kokes, who said he was doing OK trolling. If trying this, I'd set lures from 75 to 90 feet and troll very slowly, under 1 mph if possible. Trolling is a good way to hunt for schools of fish, watching for areas holding lots of schools and even marking schools so you can drag through them repeatedly. When trolling slows each morning, now is the perfect time to learn jigging because there are so many small schools. Yes, the small size makes everything more difficult, but the large number of schools partially makes up for size. Once you get on a small school, it can turn into a larger school. Tight Lines.

08-09-2018, 09:36 PM
There is a sizeable fleet scouting out the Iron Work every morning about 9 am and many boats have done well. We fished last Saturday with a young couple and their sons, age 8 and 5. The older boy is a terror with a rod and reel, catching the first fish, the biggest fish, the most fish, and his limit of 5. It was fun to be part of it. The rest of us worked hard to finish with 13 total, what we considered pretty slow fishing. There were lots of boats and plenty of scrums formed up. We found several small schools that would only give up 1 fish, if that. Still, it is always interesting to take part in the local version of "the attack on the salmon run," continuing a tradition that started thousands of years ago.

On Tuesday we fished 4 experienced jiggers for 3 hours. We found plenty of fish that would not bite and ended with 7 fish. We used lights, we used corn, we used corn marinated in smelly jelly, we used worms, we may have chanted. It was slow.

Today the two of us fished for almost 3 hours and boated 2 fish. We were on top of the fish and we often felt the small twitch that comes when a fish bumps the jig or the line, but they wouldn't bite for us today. I was pretty busy watching the sonar, either finding fish or trying to stay on the fish, so I wasn't watching closely, but we agreed that it looked like fishing was slow for the fleet today too.

It gets like this sometimes, and we can only hope it isn't harbinger of slow times ahead. Everyone is trying to drop something into a school of fish and capture enough attention to entice a bite. Lights (on 18" to 6" leaders) are sometimes the ticket. The new light craze from Dr Fish and the long used "Mity Lite" are shown below. The new lights turn on in the water and turn off when dry. The Mity Lite have replaceable batteries, rubber O-rings, and much brighter lights. We've been using the Dr Fish lights but we'll be returning to Mity Lites on the next trip to see if that produces any magic. I'm also going to put Radical Glow tube jigs on an old lead jig, hoping the light, color or dancing tendrils will excite a fish. Perhaps I'll fill the plastic tube jig with smelly jelly before putting it over the lead jig.

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It has been beautiful on the water lately and worth the trip even though the fishing has been declining, at least so for us. I stopped getting the average weight when we switched from transporting fish in a bag to a cooler. But I've been weighing the larger fish most days, culling the biggest for making lox. Many of the "nicer" fish weigh 1.6 pounds right now. A noticeably bigger fish will weigh 1.8 - 2.0 pounds but we have seen few 2 lb fish lately. All the males have a hook jaw and females are fat with growing eggs. Some of the flesh near the tail is beginning to lose its orange color and there is less fat on the bellies. The fish were at their peak a couple of weeks back but the two we're having for dinner tonight were still spectacular fish. Tight Lines.

08-13-2018, 07:00 PM
After several days off the water we were out this morning. At the dock one friend bemoaned very slow fishing over the weekend. Another, when were talking about how slow the bite was last week, suggested getting away from most of the other boats and fish schools that haven't been worked over. It was slow this morning at the start. Many small schools split the second our jigs were in the school. The advice about finding schools that haven't been harassed seemed to have helped and we found several more distant schools from which we quickly caught a fish or two. Unfortunately, with a slow bite even a fish or two draws a crowd of helper boats pretty quickly, and an extra 20 or 30 lures with lights flashing seems to slow the bite substantially. Fortunately, there are still lots of small schools so finding another school isn't that difficult.

We eventually caught the 10 salmon shown below. The cutting board is 16 inches wide. The average fish was 1.33 lb and the fish of the day was 1.56 lb. As noted earlier, many fish are currently losing weight as they stop or slow their eating. The flesh on many fish is beginning to lose the bright orange and there is less belly fat. Some of the females are getting huge eggs. A couple of the fish seemed to have a red hue when we netted them but the photo doesn't indicate much color change. On the other hand, jaws are starting to hook, as shown below.

My guess is that jigging for salmon will be highly variable, with some painfully slow days and some exciting days, for the next 2 or 3 weeks. Tight lines.

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Post Script:

Tuesday AM,

What a difference a day makes. We were out early this morning and hunted for schools for over two hours, finding only a few small ones. Most were gone is 60 seconds and the 3 or 4 we were on top of didn't produce a bite nor a lure bump. The only boat catching many fish was Robby Richardson's, the best guide on the lake, whose guests were catching like crazy and whose boat was getting surrounded by second rate guides when we left. Tuesday was one of those painfully slow days for us. That's jigging this summer. On the other hand, morning temperatures are in the low to mid 40s now and afternoons are in the low to mid 80s. Gunnison recorded zero days over 90 F in July. Water temp on Blue Mesa has already started dropping, down to 67F this morning. At least we aren't working up a sweat while we're not catching fish. Good Luck.

08-28-2018, 08:01 PM
After two weeks off the water it was nice to head out to the lake this morning. It was shocking to see how low the lake has gotten. The lake is dropping about 4 inches per day and is at 41% of full pool, down 65 ft total. Friends on the dock reported that fishing success has gradually slowed and this morning's fleet was down to 20 boats. We fished for about 2 hours before the wind blew us in. We found small schools without too much difficulty and picked up singles and doubles, taking a total of 6 fish. The 4 bigger fish, all males showing a little red and pronounced hooked jaws, weighed 1.6 pounds each. We felt like we would have taken a limit if the wind had held off for another hour. The weather is great, the crowds are thinning and there are still a few good fishing days ahead of us. Tight Lines.

09-05-2018, 05:46 PM
Last week we had a couple of good days on the lake, one day boating 15 when we went with guests. We don't normally fish weekends due to crowds but took a new freshman at WSCU out on Saturday. Fishing was slow but we managed to get 6 before the wind blew us off the lake. We went out Tuesday and fished pretty hard, and never had a bite. We were on several small schools only to watch them dive for the bottom as soon as our lures were in the school. We set our lures on backs a couple of times but these fish weren't the least interested in our magic.

I believe there are still many fish around the Iron Works but they are schooling deep and are often around the old dead standing trees that are now in the jigging range due to very low water. We lost two lures and lights in the trees on Tuesday. It is pretty clear that the best days are well behind us but I'm hoping for a few more good days once the rainy (finally) weather clears out.

Most fishermen seem to have given up, as there were only about 30 boats out on Saturday and on Tuesday I counted only 12 boats. We're smoking fish today for a friend who will take them all to England on Monday. We'll be pulling the boat before too long to get it ready for fall fishing at Lake Powell. The season at Blue Mesa is coming to a close -- but maybe not quite yet. Regards, Kokanee64

09-07-2018, 11:34 AM
After getting skunked on Tuesday we tried the lake again on Thursday, and again were skunked. While we found several very small schools and stayed on top of them for 15 minutes at a time, we never had a bump or bite. The fish were quite deep, with the top of most schools around 95 ft -- we've never had much luck jigging salmon this deep. I suspect low oxygen levels and high water temps may have driven the remaining fish deep. River fishermen are reporting lots of salmon in the Gunnison River on their way to the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery just north of Almont. There are still kokanee in the lake but we can't get those that remain to bite. There were only 10 boats fishing on Thursday and we never saw a fish caught. Out of curiosity we searched the old river channel in front of the Dillon Pennacles and marked a few individual fish but no schools. We also searched the deep channel area north of the island in front of the Sapinaro store (the water is now so low you can walk to the "island") and found empty water.

The lake has fallen to 7451 ft, 38.6% of full pool. In nearly 20 years of fishing BM, I don't believe I've ever seen it this low, 69 ft below full pool. Park Service employees were moving the ramp, store and dock at the Elk Creek Marina on Thursday, chasing the low water. The guy who appeared to be supervising the work told me the plan was to drop the lake another 19 feet. After fishing we decided to return to the lake and pull our boat, but the last bit of single lane boat ramp was blocked with heavy equipment pushing the store deeper. Mary ran the boat to the Lake Fork Marina, where there was again only a single lane left to the ramp and the last 5 feet of the ramp was covered with sand.

So Blue Mesa kokanee fishing ended for us yesterday with more a whimper than a bang. Still, it was a fantastic year for fishing kokanee on Blue Mesa, with hot early morning trolling from early May to mid July, and pretty good jigging until recently. We, and all our friends and neighbors, have gorged on salmon and we have our possession limit of 20 frozen fish cold smoked and ready to thaw and eat on special occasions. Now it is time to clean the boat (the scum after being continuously in the water since May 3 is pretty daunting) and change out the Blue Mesa fishing equipment for Lake Powell equipment. We're hoping to make the first of several week long camping trip to LP in a couple of weeks. It is hard to beat this retirement gig.

Best wishes to all those who stopped by this summer to read about fishing on Blue Mesa, and especially to those who posted about their experiences fishing BM. I'm already looking forward to kokanee fishing next summer and will share our experiences with those who have Blue Mesa fishing on their bucket list. And in the mean time, there is a 5 pound bass waiting for me this fall at Lake Powell, and a 6 pounder waiting next spring. Tight lines. Kokanee64

10-04-2018, 11:07 PM
The boat ramps are closed or near impossible to use due to low water.