View Full Version : 2020 Blue Mesa Kokanee Fishing Report

03-30-2020, 05:57 PM
Well, it's time to start thinking about fishing Blue Mesa for those of us who no longer ice fish. The lake is certainly in better condition this year than last, with a current elevation of 7484, up 47 ft from one year ago. I've posted a couple of photos below showing the ice-bound lake. For those who know the lake well and have sharp eyes, the Sapinaro photo shows the small island/reef below the Sapinaro store just barely poking through the ice. Current temps are running highs of about 45 and lows in the teens to 20s. With this kind of weather the ice might last to the middle of April or later.

[sorry, had to delete the two photos from the phone because they were upside down and my life is too short to deal with it right now]

We attended a presentation by the CO Parks & Wildlife folks in Gunnison last winter and learned a little about conditions and plans. The egg take in the fall was 6.5 million at Blue Mesa and 4.5 million from Wolford. The egg take at BM is down from the previous year but we were told these two numbers combined "meet state needs." They plan to release 3.5 million fingerlings into BM this spring. The economic impact from BM fishing last year was $12.3 million, versus $5.43 million 1987 (I haven't done the math but I'd bet this is a decline in real dollars over 33 years). They believe the current koke population is about 400,000 versus 1 million in 2002. They presented info about new studies showing considerable predation impact from lake trout (macinaw), some from brown trout and little from perch. As always, they have multiple, somewhat competing goals. First, they plan to manage predation to ensure sufficient eggs for kokanee sustainability. Second, they want to maintain trophy mac fishing. To that end, they have introduced a bounty program to reduce lake trout numbers. While I'm all in favor of reducing lake trout numbers, I'm not interesting in participating in the bounty program, so you'll have to go to the state web site to get details.

The presenters spent a lot of time on the bounty plan but toward the very end got around to the elephant in the room: Gill Lice. The first gill lice were seen in 2015. In 2016 9% of examined salmon had lice with an average of 1.2 gill lice per fish. In 2017 68% of examined fish had lice at an average of 2.3 lice per fish. In 2018 97% of fish had lice and the average was up to 9.4 lice per fish. In 2019 100% of examined fish had lice and the average was 37.2 lice per fish. That's a big elephant. A economist friend and I used to joke that when our lecture topic was one that was not very well understood by researchers, we substituted hand waving for facts. The fish guys were doing a lot of hand waving at this point. No one knows for sure what will happen next, but this isn't good.

Finally, for those who wonder if Gunnison and Blue Mesa will be safe for fishermen this summer, I have more unpleasant news. Gunnison County currently has 80 cases of Wuhan ChiCom BatBallSoup Virus, aka CV-19. We only have 17K people in the county, so our CV19 rate is 460 cases per 100,000 people, the highest in the state by a pretty good stretch. We have paid for our boat slip this summer and we plan to fish, but we will have to play it very save and be very careful. My daughter and son-in-law are both emergency physicians at the UC Medical Center in Denver and they estimate that the mortality rate from CV19 for people who check the same medical boxes as me is north of 80%. I probably won't be seeing them or my 2 month old granddaughter in person until a vaccine is available.

On a happier note, it is worth remembering in these tough times that we in the US and around the world, are the luckiest, most fortunate people to have ever lived. Health, diet, education, democracy, income, etc., are at the highest levels ever and the rate of change in the last 100 years looks like the exponential curves for CV19 we see on the news every day. If you want to read about truly awful times, read "The Calamitous 14th Century" by Barbara Tuchman -- 60% of europe's population died from the plague and europe had to send the orphans on Childrens' Crusades just to get rid of them -- couldn't feed them. If you want to see amazing graphs about country and world progress over the last 2000 years, including up to date info on CV19, look at the web site Our World in Data, out of Oxford University. It is a tough time but we are tough people; we'll get through this if we take care of ourselves and one another.

Tight lines, good health and jobs for all in 2020. Kokanee64

04-05-2020, 07:27 PM
After seeing that the ramps at Lake Powell are closing (and after getting the boat and food ready for the now cancelled trip) I thought I'd take a look at the Curecanti National Recreation website to get the latest here. Thought maybe I should get the boat ready for Blue Mesa fishing. According to the website campgrounds, bathrooms, visitor centers, etc are closed in cooperation with state and local authorities. This wasn't surprising since we are now up to 90 positive CV19 cases and I think we still have the highest per capita county rates in CO. County authorities are doing all they can to send second home owners back to some other home and no, you aren't welcome if you want to come visit your second home right now. But nothing about the ramps, perhaps because the ramps end in ice right now anyway.

So we drove out to the lake. Ice in the shallow Iola Basin looks like it might last another 2 or 3 days. We guessed Sapinaro ice would be gone in 4 - 5 days unless the weather turns. There are large patches of open water here and there. The Elk Creek ramp has a cable across it with a sign just saying "closed." It is the same cable and sign they use at night during fishing season after the inspection station closes. The ramp had been open all winter til now so people could unload at the ice. Ditto for the Lake Fork ramp except that sign says "closed for the season." They probably don't have a large assortment of signs to choose from so who knows what else to infer from a few words.

Every trail head parking area between Gunny and BM dam was full of cars. There were at least 10 vehicles w/ empty trailers waiting at the airport bridge for people floating the river today. Gunnites are active, outdoor people and are waiting for recreation opportunities to open up. It still isn't clear what will happen at BM this spring. The marina is supposed to open May 1 and there usually are fishing tournaments in early May. Not holding my breath and have started thinking more about a maple headboard I've considered building. That would keep me busy for a while I suppose but this is supposed to fishing season; woodworking season was last winter and we are tired of winter. Kokanee64

We've been waiting and waiting for that Godot guy. Anyone seen him lately?

04-19-2020, 05:58 PM
Blue Mesa is still closed to motorized boats but we can provide a little bit of new information. The lake has been dropping slowly for some time and a couple of days back was at 7482 ft, a little above the ten year average for that date of 7477 ft. After last year this is a real relief. Our snow pack is a little above average and we have been getting a couple of inches or a dusting of new snow most nights lately. About a week ago the lake was ice free except for the canyon area around the Elk Creek Marina and given the warmish weather it is probably clear by now. In other words, we could go fishing if the lock down ends. No idea when that may happen.

Colorado was hit harder by CV19 than most mountain and plain states and Gunnison country was hit particularly hard. A week or so back we could get detailed CV19 information from the county in table form but they weren't able to produce understandable graphs for some reason. This was embarrassing for me as I probably taught their data people how to do Excel and graphs back when I was teaching at WSCU. Now they have switched to some commercial software that has pretty graphs that don't tell a data nerd like me what I really want to know -- I want the raw data. The state still provides daily info but they are presenting it in a graph form that is certain to confuse most people -- they show cumulative statistics rather than frequency distributions. However, I've converted one of their graphs to daily frequency distributions, as shown below.


The blue columns are daily hospitalizations and the orange columns are deaths. As you can see, daily hospitalizations and daily deaths peaked April 2, with another spike April 8 (I'm guessing a nursing home was hit hard). So CO has been on a pretty steep CV19 decline for over 2 weeks. It amazes me that they are still converting the Pepsi Center to an emergency hospital when the need to do so had passed before they even started. The Governor keeps saying we need lots and lots of testing before he can unlock the state. I'm sure that would be reassuring for decision makers but I think it misses the real point. When a new virus blows through a population it carries a predetermined punch and regardless of what we do in the short term it is going to infect and kill a certain percentage of the population. How serious those numbers are depends on the characteristics (nastiness) of the virus and the healthiness of the population -- but we really can't do anything to influence how many will get sick or how many will die, that is already baked into the cake so to speak. When we flatten the curve we delay infections in order to not overwhelm our health resources but we don't reduce the number who will get sick or the number who will die. We can pay now or we can pay later, but we will pay. We aren't saving lives with social distances and lock downs, we are delaying deaths. As soon as we start to open up there will be a spike in infections and deaths, and that is the problem for political leaders. The Governor knows that when he begins to open the state back up he is also starting a resurgence of the virus, with an increasing number of infections and deaths. Regardless of a Governor's party, the governor knows the press supporting the other party will start yelling about killing granny to help the stock market, etc. I expect "He has blood on his hands" to be a common accusation from both parties during the election. In the longer run we will have some herd immunity, drugs and treatments that work better and eventually maybe a vaccine. In the short run, we just have to take the punch, no matter how awful it is and no matter how much it hurts. We can hide for a while to delay the punch, but when we come out, we have to take it on the chin. For some reason our leaders are unable or unwilling to tell us how this all works. With 22 million applying for unemployment benefits, and the financial distress, suicides, abuse and depression that comes with job losses, Governors will eventually have to act. Perhaps it is already much too late.

On a happier note, 3.1 million fingerlings were dumped into the Gunnison River -- on the most recent moonless night to reduce the number eaten during the trip and in the lake. So we should have a pretty good crop of young salmon which will grow into bigger salmon we get to catch and eat. Gill lice will continue to be a serious problem but I'm in no position to predict how serious it will be. The marina was scheduled to open May 1 and there is usually a fishing tournament about then too. I'll post when I know more and we would all appreciate others posting when they know more.

05-01-2020, 09:51 PM
God Bless all those affected by the virus. Hope you are able to go back to normal life and fishing soon!

05-12-2020, 10:28 AM
Thank you Kokanee64,
I appreciate the effort you put into the posts. I am going to try trolling this weekend from the kayak, hopefully the water temps are climbing above 50 with all of the warm weather we have had and the schools will be running in the top water/flat line. I just added another adjustable rod holder, so I can trolling with beads/spinners and hoochies and narrow down the bite a little more quickly. Does anyone have any advice for a good depth to start searching this early?

05-12-2020, 01:05 PM
Last Friday we received a call from the Elk Creek Marina operator informing us that on Friday, May 15 we could launch our boat at Blue Mesa and keep the boat at our slip. The concessionaire reports they are not yet allowed to open their stores and they don't know when that might happen. They reported that the ramp will not be open on Friday for non-locals. I have no idea how local versus not local is determined. The concessionaire was not aware of plans for more opening. I also heard the Governor's lecture yesterday announcing that camping at state parks is now allowed. Don't know if camping is allowed at Blue Mesa campgrounds. Sorry I don't know more. Sometimes if feels like all the rules are being made on the fly.

Now where might a guy find the fish? Unless I get more info, I plan to head east from the marina and try the stretch between Dry Creek and where the Iola basin opens up (a guy could launch a kayak at Dry creek I think). If that doesn't work I'll try Iola in front of the launch ramp. I think the fish will still be relatively shallow, say from 13 to 29 feet. We hope to launch Friday afternoon and maybe fish Saturday but our plans are also on the fly because MJ has rotator cuff surgery tomorrow and we'll have to see how she is doing. Good Luck. Sure would appreciate hearing results from anyone who fishes BM on Friday.

05-12-2020, 01:19 PM
Thanks Konanee64,
I was thinking of starting at dry creek as well. I will post results for sure.
Good luck out there, I will be in a tan 10 ft kayak trolling two rods, if you see me feel free to swing by and say hello

05-22-2020, 11:26 AM
After Blue Mesa opened to locals a week ago today we fished on Saturday and Sunday, catching lots of small trout and 7 nice salmon, 4 on Sat and 3 on Sunday. The 7 salmon averaged 1.4 pounds and 6 of the 7 had only a few gill lice. The smallest fish was infested. Fish were shallow at first, then deeper, with a slight preference for pink.

We fished yesterday (Thursday 5/22) and caught 8 - 10 small trout and zero kokanee. There were 5 or 6 boats with us fishing Cebola, which didn't seem like very many, so we cruised over to Iola before putting the boat away and found 1 fishing boat. After packing up we decided to see if Sapinaro was full of boats. There were 5 - 7 boats in Sapinaro, most of which were stationary over by McIntire Gulch, and I guessed they were probably after large macs.

So in total there were fewer than 15 boats out yesterday on a beautiful day. Hard to see how even 3 or 5 times that number of boats would have been a CV19 problem but we have to listen to the science, which apparently says 15 boats is OK but 20 might be a disaster. Who knows.

Afternoon winds have been pretty awful lately.

Good luck.

05-22-2020, 12:41 PM
I made it out on 5/16 and had a good morning, 5 salmon shallow with pink/purple working best for me. They started dropping around 9:30 but I have an aggressive strike in a large gold spoon trolling for browns after filling the salmon limit. He jumped several times and shook the hook but I thought it was interesting getting a bite on that lure!

05-25-2020, 10:07 PM
My wife and I had a good day yesterday and caught our limits. We were flatlining but marked an awful lot of fish at about 50’, not sure if they could have been cruising macs but they were showing up consistently where the water was between 70-100’ deep.
We caught all of our fish on dodgers and hoochies, we caught fish on 4 different pattern combos but pink/purple combos still seemed to be our best bet. We caught lots of rainbows, some up to 16”, and one nice eating size laker. Small craft conditions only held until about 11 am, so all of our fishing the last couple trips has been in the morning.
Good luck!

05-28-2020, 07:15 PM
Excellent and Thorough Reports from Kokanee64 as usual...very much appreciated. Thank You Kokanee64!

It's really unfortunate that the Gill Lice got into the Blue Mesa system. We have had the Gill Lice in Elevenmile for many years now and it's taken a crazy toll on the Kokanee survival. Seems like a batch of Kokanee will make it to the 3 year mark once in a while and fishing will be reasonable....while other years the Kokanee don't make it because of the Gill Lice combined with warm water temperatures. It would be interesting to hear the explanation of how the gill lice got into Blue Mesa....I was told a stocking of Kokanee from Wyoming caused the contamination in Elevenmile.

06-05-2020, 08:22 PM
Nice to see you all back here!!!! 2020 has been a huge struggle for many, but I did manage to wet a few lines today with a good buddy of mine. We got kind of a late start today. We were headed out from the boat ramp a lake fork at 6:30, and headed straight to the pinnacles. Took a little while to figure out the game plan as it was the first time out for me this year. Long story short, we ended up with 6 kokes in the cooler, losing 4-5 more. Probably a dozen rainbows and two pretty nice browns.
We caught all kokes at 0-20ft. Pink dodger with blue or purple beads @1.2ish mph. Fish very scattered, but had a great time. Easily could have had an early limit but we weren’t really on our game!! Typical for me the first time out for sure.
Side note...we caught some VERY nice Kokanee today. Didn’t weigh them but some solid 17+”’s today. And surface water temp 59-61 degrees
Good luck everyone!!!!

06-14-2020, 12:22 AM
We're from Montrose and have been hitting BM several times each weekend since it opened up to out-of-county residents. For the first few weekends it was HOT. We were fishing on the south side of the lake, west of the Cebolla arm and consistently limiting out within a few hours between 10 and 25 feet on all colors, mostly spinners and dodgers but some hoochies. Trolling at 1.2 with downriggers and leaders about a foot behind smaller dodgers. At one point we even had a triple header - it was awesome! All of the fish were definitely on the large side and very spunky. Strangely didn't get into any small young ones.

Then last weekend came. We fished on Friday 6/5 with the same luck. Saturday 6/6 was the large low pressure wind system that came through (and a full moon I believe). We went out on Sunday 6/8 and twice this weekend and seem to have lost our mojo. The old honey holes that were producing well two days prior wouldn't produce as much as a bite. Not marking much below 20 feet we changed it up and went with two side planers and two rods at 10 and 15 on the downriggers. In the three trips since 6/8 we have landed a few small kokes (small enough to throw back) and trolled a lot of the area in southwest Cebolla and northwest Sapinero basins. The lake has also been on the rise and I notice water temps are down a degree or two.

I'm trying to learn what the kokanee are doing at various times of the year (as water cools, weather systems move through, lake levels rise, etc). Any wisdom out there? Is it wise to go with a more subtle presentation when they seem to get less aggressive (less spinners, slower speeds)? Or is it all just random and we keep trying until the good days return? Anyone else have a similar experience the past few weeks?

06-19-2020, 12:15 AM
Try to find and fish 52 degree water. You may need a thermometer that can be lowered deep into the lake.