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Thread: 2019 Blue Mesa Kokanee Fishing Report

  1. #1
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    Default 2019 Blue Mesa Kokanee Fishing Report

    Well, OK, so maybe not so much a fishing report as a thinking about fishing report and wishing I was fishing report.

    Last fall, 2018, the lake was at a near record low level. For those who know the lake, today in the Iola basin the lake is river channel from the Lake City bridge down nearly to the launch ramp on the south shore. We are currently at 29.77% of full pool and 82.57 feet below full pool. We had a cold winter, fortunately without a lot of -30 and -40 temps like some years, but with few thaws until recently. The lake froze early, even Sapinaro. The ice is currently nearly 30 inches thick at Elk Creek and around 12 near the dam. The young guys I talk with in Gene Taylors and ice-fishing friends around town reported good ice-fishing all winter. People are talking ice-out won't happen until mid-April, maybe late April. Elk Creek Marine tries to open May 1 but is delayed some years by ice. First payments for seasonal slip rentals are due at the end of the month.

    I guy at the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, where Blue Mesa salmon start their lives, told me they had been worried because of water conditions last summer and fall that the fall egg take might be low. They took 9.2 million eggs, which he characterized as "pretty decent." The upper and low records are 17.2 million and under 3 million eggs per year. He didn't say, but from hearing numbers over the year I'd guess this may be slightly above average in a year that had everyone concerned. This year's release of several million salmon fingerlings from the hatchery into the East and then Gunnison rivers hasn't yet been scheduled. They prefer that the lake is open and the sun producing plankton before releasing the fish. They also prefer a new moon because it reduces predation, which apparently can be substantial. Finally, they prefer earlier in the spring, before irrigation head-gates are opened. Several years ago a study out of CSU reported that many thousands of fingerlings were stranded in fields when they were swept into irrigation ditches. Ranchers have been good to cooperate but coordination is big job that gets harder when there are lots of gates already wide open. The people that run the hatchery and fishery at Blue Mesa must feel shell shocked at times. They have the on-going challenges of invasive mussels, gill lice (which they hope may not be as bad as feared), lake trout predation (the previous big problem) and low water levels (which result in lower oxygen levels and other problems). My hat is off to them for producing such a great fishery in such challenging circumstances.

    We have been moving snow all winter and loving it. The Gunnison drainage has a snow pack of 151% of the seven year average. We will have a good winter even if it doesn't snow again. Crested Butte, the ski resort 25 miles up the road, has had 274 inches so far this year. The snow around my house is well over 2 ft deep and our deer are struggling, eating sage that sticks through a hard crust that will support them and even me. Everyone is hopeful the lake will rise 40 to 50 feet. About 10 years ago we came off a drought period and had a good snow year; everyone was expecting a good run off. We had an average year. The explanation was that the ground water had been severely depleted and much of what should have been run off was soaked up. I'm hoping for 2 more big storms as insurance.

    Fingers crossed for lots of water, hot fishing and a safe year for everyone. Kokanee64

  2. #2

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    Thanks for the numbers, that is a relief hearing 9.2 million eggs captured. I am guessing we are going to be late April before the ice comes off. On a normal year I always figure the 10th of April. I think a lot depends on how much wind we get in April, wind seems to take the ice off quickly. My guess is we may still have ice in the Cebolla and Lake fork arms early May. I don't remember the year, but it was in the 80s when everyone showed up for the first fishing tournament and the lake was still froze. Normally the 1st tournament is the 1st weekend in May.

  3. #3
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    I've been wondering whether the concessionaire will be able to get the docks moved and the marina "open" before that first tournament because of ice but also maybe low water. I haven't been down the ramp for a while but it seemed to me it was a pretty good mess down there because of the low water last fall. Also, is there any ramp left? Hope we don't have to wait for more water before the ramp and marina can open. Kokanee64

  4. #4

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    That is a very good question. I cant imagine trying to run a 120 teams out of that canyon the way it looks now. I have a slip at the Lake fork marina that doesn't open until May 15th. I am wondering if it will be open by the 15th. Warm weather this week, maybe the run off will start.

  5. #5
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    Default Lake Level Projections

    Over at Wayne's Words a guy posted a link to Dept of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation lake level projections
    https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/s...24Month_03.pdf.

    The plan projects the end of month lake elevations for Fontenelle, Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, Navajo and Powell for the next 24 months (2019 and 2020). Here is what the plan projects for Blue Mesa over the upcoming summer. This would be fantastic, getting us up to 68% of capacity from the 30% of capacity, and 10 ft or so better than the peak last summer. Yesterday the lake was at 7437.61.



    Elevation

    February 7437.59
    March 7438.08
    April 7445.41
    May 7450.39
    June 7488.92
    July 7494.09
    August 7490.33
    September 7487.82

    I tried to create a table showing projected elevation, increase from the previous month, and cummulative change from end of February but haven't yet figured out the table function. It is worth noting that essentially no increase is expected in March, only 7 ft in April, 5 ft in May, and then 38 ft in June. These folks are projecting peak end of month elevation in July, at 56.5 ft above the end of of February (and today's) elevation.

    I'll be curious to see how close these projections come and I'll post end of month elevation. I'm feeling pretty good about what these projections would mean for fishing and boating on Blue Mesa this summer.

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by kokanee64 View Post
    Over at Wayne's Words a guy posted a link to Dept of Interior and Bureau of Reclamation lake level projections
    https://www.usbr.gov/uc/water/crsp/s...24Month_03.pdf.

    The plan projects the end of month lake elevations for Fontenelle, Flaming Gorge, Blue Mesa, Navajo and Powell for the next 24 months (2019 and 2020). Here is what the plan projects for Blue Mesa over the upcoming summer. This would be fantastic, getting us up to 68% of capacity from the 30% of capacity, and 10 ft or so better than the peak last summer. Yesterday the lake was at 7437.61.



    Elevation

    February 7437.59
    March 7438.08
    April 7445.41
    May 7450.39
    June 7488.92
    July 7494.09
    August 7490.33
    September 7487.82

    I tried to create a table showing projected elevation, increase from the previous month, and cummulative change from end of February but haven't yet figured out the table function. It is worth noting that essentially no increase is expected in March, only 7 ft in April, 5 ft in May, and then 38 ft in June. These folks are projecting peak end of month elevation in July, at 56.5 ft above the end of of February (and today's) elevation.

    I'll be curious to see how close these projections come and I'll post end of month elevation. I'm feeling pretty good about what these projections would mean for fishing and boating on Blue Mesa this summer.
    You're optimism would be much different than my experiences as to the effect of fast rising water conditions. I've found it blows the fishing all to hell. For you folks fishing Blue Mesa, I hope you are correct.
    2003 Jetcraft SK2125, Yamaha 150, Yamaha T8, 2006 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually

  7. #7

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    I am surprised they predict more of a rise in April than in May. Maybe they are letting more water go in May. I don't think a 7 ft. rise will get the boat slips off the bank at the lake fork. Thanks for the update!

  8. #8

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    Ok, I had to dig into this runoff numbers a little with an ex-fish biologist. Apparently the south facing slopes burn off first accounting for the April runoff. After that the air has to warm to a certain temp. to melt the rest. That is dumbing down all the big words he used. Rule of thumb he said is GJ hits 80 degrees we are in run off mode. One problem is they let the fingerlings go dark moon in April if there is no ice. It gets more problematic the later they wait because of head gates open between Roaring Judy and the lake.

  9. #9
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    Hey SuperD,

    I hear you about rapidly rising water and fishing, so I tried to think back to years when BM was hit with a lot of run off -- couldn't recall them clearly so I'll maybe take a look at some water records and look a little deeper. The BM fishery took a big hit during the mackinaw predation years (08 - 10 if I recall correctly) but has mostly been good to excellent the 19 years I've fished it. There are lots of years when lots of water is dumped during runoff but I don't recall any when fishing slowed noticeably. BM is 25 miles long, so people move down lake to avoid mud and trees/debris from big runoffs. This year will be an extreme year; by the end of the summer a substantial majority of the water in the lake will have entered in the past 2 months as runoff (from 30% to 68%). We'll see if our catch rate drops but I'm guessing it will be good. For me, the three big concerns for the fishery are

    (1) will we have a lots of fresh water dumped on the lake because salmon are stressed with low oxygen and warmer temps -- this affects summer fishing success and the egg harvest.
    (2) how many fingerlings were released for the cohort we are catching now and
    (3) how many were eaten by lake trout since then.

    My father always claimed that fishing improved when a lake went up because the brown trout found lots of newly submerged bugs and such. That's not the same as 40 feet in 30 days, which we may see this summer. This has gotten me thinking that I've never recorded the lake level or calculated rates of water level change in any of the fishing records I've kept. I sort of pay attention to water temp, but not all that much. Thanks for bringing this up -- it is giving me new things to think about. Kokanee64

  10. #10
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    I'm a 100% sure that the net effect of the lake rising will be good for the fishery. It just might take a short period for things to stabilize.
    2003 Jetcraft SK2125, Yamaha 150, Yamaha T8, 2006 Dodge Ram 3500 Dually

  11. #11
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    I think you're calling this one right and it will be interesting to see if I can detect the severity and the length of the effect, so thanks. You know you are living right when you collect your data by going fishing.

  12. #12
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    Thought I'd share an interesting tidbit from the Gunnison Country Times (April 11) we found when we returned home from Denver today (April 14):

    "Working in conjunction with the US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Park Service (NSP) rangers at Curecanti National Recreation Area broke through two-foot-thick ice this past Friday to stock rainbow trout at Blue Mesa Reservoir. While the Fish and Wildlife Service stocks 120,000 ten-inch fish annually at the reservoir west of Gunnison, staff from the agency's Hotchkiss National Fish Hatchery made four separate trips over the last week with a total of 134,000 additional four-inch trout. The fish were excess stock from the hatchery which the Fish and Wildlife Service crew was happy to deliver to Blue Mesa."

    The fingerling delivery would have been April 5 I believe, so probably the ice is less than 2 feet thick today.

  13. #13
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    The inlet area in the Iola basin at Blue Mesa Reservoir is showing a little open water, not so much elsewhere. The first photo is of the Cebolla basin, looking toward the Elk Creek Camp Ground yesterday. The second is the middle bridge on April 18, yesterday, and the third is the bridge April 2.

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    The Feds have published another set of lake level projections. I'm new to this but I'm guessing they publish new forecasts monthly. The new Blue Mesa forecast is for putting 80 ft on the lake, about 23 ft more than the March projection. I'm all in favor of that. My 90 year old neighbor who still works the ranch on which he was born told us the snow on his pastures just soaked in and the ground is now dry. I'm seeing a lot of that. The young guys at Gene Traylors are guessing April 28 for ice out. Maybe it is time to uncover the boat.

  14. #14
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    We drove the length of Blue Mesa yesterday (April 29) on the way home from fishing Lake Powell. It was nice to see the lake entirely open (as far as we could see anyway) but no boats were on the lake, perhaps because they can't yet launch, perhaps because it was low 40s, windy and raining. The lake is currently at 7437.9 ft, up 14.33 ft from April 1. This is a lot more than projected by the feds. Since the current level is about 2 ft higher than last September 7 when we pulled our boat for the fall, I'm wondering if the powers that be took extra steps to raise the water level to a point where the ramps work somewhat.

    The traditional early May fishing tournament has been pushed back to June because of low water. Apparently discussions to hold the tournament mid May didn't work out because of concerns about low run off projections (due to slower snow melt) not covering the ramps sufficiently by then.

    We had what counts locally as a good rain last night. That coupled with what appeared to considerably higher flows on the Gunnison when we pulled into town Monday gives me hope we can put another few feet on the lake quickly. Of course, inflow alone doesn't count for much if the feds open up the drain on this bathtub.

    I'll be away for nearly a week but I'll post as soon as I know the launch ramps are open. Any other local folks know what is supposed to happen or is actually happening in the next few weeks?

    Kokanee64

  15. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by kokanee64 View Post

    We had what counts locally as a good rain last night. That coupled with what appeared to considerably higher flows on the Gunnison when we pulled into town Monday gives me hope we can put another few feet on the lake quickly. Of course, inflow alone doesn't count for much if the feds open up the drain on this bathtub.

    Kokanee64
    For what ever reason the outflow was slowed over the weekend and into Tuesday. That coupled with the increased inflow resulted in an almost 5 foot rise by Tuesday. http://bluemesa.water-data.com/

  16. #16
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    Readers of the recent 2019 Blue Mesa Fishing Report can be forgiven if they are wondering, "is that guy over in Gunnison issuing fake fishing reports again?" The evidence is impossible to refute; lots of reports, zero fish, zero attempts at fishing, zero plans for fishing any time soon. This "report" will continue the trend.

    Winter has been slow to leave Gunny. It snowed last night, with more white-out snow, rain and wind throughout the day. Fishing conditions are miserable. However, underlying conditions are improving noticeably. BM is filling faster than projected by the Feds even as locals are noting that a late spring and low temps are keeping inflows modest for now. As Captcapsaicin noted above, the feds put the plug in the bathtub drain in late April for a 5 day period when inflows were good and the lake rose nearly 1.5 ft per day or better. More recently the lake has been rising 9 - 12 inches per day as outflows are again somewhat restricted. We are up 23 ft since the end of March and 7ish ft since the end of April, 45.5% of full pool and 59 ft below full pool. This is roughly the same elevation as August 10 last summer but last summer the lake was dropping and now it just getting started up. Of course, last August we were jigging up tree branches at the Iron Works so there is plenty of room for water.

    The concessionaire, NPS and state mussel inspection team got the Elk Creek operation up and going early, which no doubt thrilled the trophy mack fishermen, who seem to like fishing in nasty weather. The Gunnison Country Times brief from a week ago reports that one lane of ramp is open from 6 am to 8 pm daily until May 16 when times change to 5:30 am to 9 pm daily. A call to the concessionaire confirmed that the courtesy docks are in and slips are ready for use, but the store is not yet open. We will wait until better weather temps us to get the boat inspected and parked in the slip, ready for use first thing in the morning without competing for an inspection and our turn on the ramp.

    The Gunnison Country Times ran a nice article May 2 about the local kokanee operation, which has been going for 53 years. Last fall Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) took 9.2 million eggs from 15,800 salmon, half male, half female (just under 1200 eggs per female). A couple of weeks ago they released 3.1 million fingerlings into the East River, pretty much consistent with releases in the last 5 years. CPW also sent about 5 million eggs to 26 other waters around the state. If you make it to Gunnison to fish Blue Mesa, I strongly encourage you to visit the Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery, just north of Gunnison and Almont. If anyone can report actual fish caught at BM this spring, please jump in with a report. If not, stay tuned for more fake fishing reports. Kokanee64

  17. #17
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    Default Good "fake" reports

    I think the fake reports are helpful it nice being able to judge what the water level might be doing before a trip! Thanks for the insight.

  18. #18
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    Great Information Kokanee64 - hopefully the level keeps coming up at a great pace. I'm waiting for your consistent fishing reports saying you limited by 7am or 8am. Again Thank You for giving us a great demo on the reservoir last June and showing us how to catch the Kokanee in Blue Mesa.

  19. #19

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    I'm going to head down on Wednesday. Looks like pretty nice weather

  20. #20
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    Trigger Warning: Fake Fishing Report Follows

    While we got the boat inspected, launched and in the slip last Wednesday, we still haven't fished and don't see how we can before Memorial Day. I had kind of promised myself I wouldn't post again until I had actually caught and eaten a kokanee but after spending a couple of hours on the boat (only in the slip) Saturday afternoon doing prep work and chatting up every fisherman and dockhand I saw, I decided to pass along some news that may help holiday fishing trip planners.

    Spoiler Alert: Trout fishing is hot, kokanee fishing is "the worst I can remember in 20 years," and all agree the weather is brutal.

    But the lake is filling. We are now at 7471 ft, up 25 ft since the end of April and 33 ft since the end of March. We have already passed the Fed's forecast for the end of May elevation and we are rising 1 to 1.5 ft per day. The Gunnison is running heavy, a little under 5000 cubic feet per second (cps) while outflows have been dialed way back, in the 600 - 800 cfs range. The average inflow for the 10 most recent May 19ths is a little under 3000 cps and the average outflows are a little under 2300 cfs. The inlet is nearly back to the Lake City bridge as we approach 55% of full pool.

    Six of the groups of fishermen I've spoken with reported no kokanee caught -- as in none, zip, nada, nope and zilch. The people I saw looked experienced and they had the right equipment. We had 4 inches of snow at my house Friday night and Saturday's rain and sleet was blown by 10 - 20 mph winds plus gusts, so the guys I saw were pretty hard core. They reported hot brown, small mac and rainbow trout fishing. Two boats reported the wind was too strong for vertical jigging larger lake trout. John, the marina's best dock hand and now fishing guide reported catching 4 kokes one week ago today but no kokes since. Mary talked to a guy coming in on a Tracker who said they caught 6 kokes on Saturday on purple. Once the other fishing partner joined in, she got the strong, silent treatment, as sometimes happens. I'm always up for trying purple in the spring -- worked for us at Lake Powell this spring too.

    The current weather will continue early into the week, with up to 18 inches of snow forecast for the San Juans. We will spending most of next week and holiday with family, so no fishing for us. If I were going out in the next 10 days based on what I've heard so far, my first day strategy would be to head west, dropping lines at the power lines and following the channel as it cuts across the Bay of Chickens. If I wasn't connecting there I'd pull everything and run to the mouth of Cebolla. I would troll the Cebolla channel toward the highway and do a big circle where the Cebolla joins the Gunnison. If I wasn't connecting by then, I'd try just west of the middle bridge and I would probably be thinking about brown trout fishing along the southern shore in front of the Dillon Pinnacles. When the west wind began to blow me off the lake I'd try the south Cebolla shore for trout on the way back. Early in the spring we often do better on lead core than on downriggers, particularly if we use lots of leader and put the lead core out only 1 or 2 colors. I stripped nearly 100 ft of mono leader off a couple of casting reels that were due for line replacement and used it for long leaders. I would use a very long drop on downriggers -- maybe 75 feet or more. Since trout are hitting, I would be temped to stack downriggers with something deep for lake trout and browns, and with koke lures stacked on top. Good luck and safe boating to all the hearty souls who fish Blue Mesa the next 10 days. And please post a report about your successful kokanee fishing trip.

    ps. Lots of snow on Carbon Peak and the Anthracite Range north of Gunnison, with more to come.

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  21. #21

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    I did get to BM last Wednesday morning. Got on the water about 7 AM at Elk Creek and headed down lake. Cebolla was stained and had a lot of debris. Trolled for a while with no luck. Decided to head further down to see if we could find any clearer water. Ended up in Soap Creek and found some water that was 52*, 2 of us caught 7 Kokes and some small browns. The Kokes were caught on pink squids at 15 -20 ft. The wind came up at noon so we called it good. Jim

  22. #22
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    Default Memorial Day Weekend fishing!

    Made it up to big blue for Memorial Day weekend. Spent Saturday down on the west end out in front of sapinero there were a lot of anchored boats I'm assuming jigging for big lakers, trolled from soap creek to the lake fork marina all morning and only found trout and no salmon, couldn't find any 50 degree water. On Sunday we fished out of the canyon at elk creek into bay of chickens and caught a lot of trout and finally got into some salmon in the west end of the bay, they seemed to like green but then the wind blew us off. Trout fishing is good salmon seems to be tough but if you find them they are hungry.

  23. #23
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    Fish at last!

    We fished Blue Mesa for the first time Monday morning and after a couple of stumbles out of the blocks were able to catch 3 kokes and eat them for dinner. Based on Jimscol's report above, we made the 20 minute run from Elk Creek to Soap Creek, adjacent to the dam. When the kicker wouldn't kick we ran back to the marina and since it was by now 6:15 we decided to wait 45 minutes for the marina store to open and see if we could replace the primer bulb, which didn't appear to create pressure. While the dock hands arrived at 7, the key to the store didn't arrive until 7:45; we were running back to Sapinaro by 8 and fishing by 8:30. We caught three kokanee in 15 minutes, two on blue and white beads and one on pink beads. Two were on DRs at 11 ft with lots of drop and one was on leadcore, 1 color with 100ft plus of mono leader. Then nothing until we picked up a small brown later and called it a day.

    The water is very heavily stained everywhere west of the marina and presumably worse east of the marina. My estimate is that about 40% - 50% if the water currently in the lake is from this spring's run off. From what I've seen and heard so far, I'm thinking SuperD called it right, and early fishing is going to be slower until the water clears. I was showing 50F water most of the time on Sunday.

    Fish are running small, as usual early in the season. These three weighed 3.7 pounds and the six fillets (w/o skin) weighed 1.7 pounds, averaging 1.25 lb and .57 pounds respectively. The cutting board is 16 inches, so I'm calling these 15 inchers. They were delicious and it was wonderful to finally get out on the lake.

    It is worth noting that Monday was Memorial Day and my special thanks goes to those who served and to their families.

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  24. #24

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    Glad to hear someone caught a few. I have been in the Sapinero and Soap creek the last few weekends myself. The Kokanee appear to be scattered to me. I caught a few while trolling for Lake trout at 35 and 40 ft. It has been slow for me catching more Browns, Rainbows and Mack's than anything. The few I have caught have been on green. I may lengthen my leader between the dodger and hoochie this weekend and see if this makes any difference. I am marking fish all through the water column and fishing from 10 to 40' ft., no big concentrations marked anywhere.

  25. #25
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    Thanks for the tip about exploring the column more thoroughly. We fished again this morning with no morning bite and then picked up 3 salmon again around 8:30. But we were fishing very shallow -- 9 to 11 ft on DR and 1 color plus lots of drop and lots of leader. Perhaps we've been concentrating too much on shallow fish. But what ever is going on, this is extremely slow for BM.

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