Don Allphin

A healthy eight-inch yellow perch next to a lipless crack bait, caught on Red Fleet Reservoir Thursday, August 15, 2019.

After trying to get out to Strawberry to see how my cutthroats have done this summer, but running into scheduling problems at every turn, I opted to take a quick trip to one of my old haunts, Red Fleet Reservoir.

In 2015, Red Fleet was treated with Rotenone to kill illegally stocked fertile walleyes that threatened some endangered species that lived downstream. Rotenone treatments kill all fish in a reservoir, so in 2016, the reservoir was restocked with seven species of fish: sterile walleyes, wipers (a cross between white bass and striped bass), tiger trout, perch, Colorado cutthroat trout, black crappie, and largemouth bass. Since then, mountain white fish, brown trout and rainbow trout have been stocked along with fathead minnows as forage.

Even though Red Fleet is technically back as a fishery, I had not taken the opportunity to fish the reservoir, so for me, this was a new beginning.

I arrived at the launch ramp at 7:15 a.m. and began my day on the water south of the boat docks. Not knowing for sure what species were most active, I rotated between a spinnerbait, a lipless crankbait, an Acme Kamlooper, and a drop shot, as I searched for bass, trout, or wipers.

The water was clear, calm and the reservoir was close to full yet only one other angler was on the lake. I probed the points, flats, coves, and steep cliff walls in search of fish. A small wiper teased me on the fourth or fifth cast of the morning and chased the lure right up to the boat but turned away at the last moment.

No fish broke the surface, the fish on my finder were stationary, suspended, and wouldn’t bite. When fish won’t bite and there is no surface activity, catching fish (especially on a restocked reservoir) can be frustrating.

For the first three hours I had eight to 10 hits but no fish in the boat. I spoke to the only other angler on the reservoir who assured me he hadn’t even smelled a bite.

Undaunted, I decided to change my game plan. I ignored all but three of the rods on the deck, a spinnerbait, a Kamlooper, and a drop shot rigged with a four-inch shad-shape worm. If the active fish were small, they might not be able to eat the large spinnerbait, right? So, when I got my next strike, I would immediately drop the spinnerbait and throw the much smaller drop shot worm to see if the fish would eat something smaller. That was my new strategy.

Within a few minutes, I caught two small wipers that took the spinnerbait. Even though I had just caught those fish, I tested my theory about trying a smaller bait, yet no other wipers stepped up to the plate.

Encouraged (at least) by the two wipers, I began moving from cove to cove, concentrating on the very back of each. In the second cove, I got two quick bites on the spinnerbait in four feet of water, but the fish didn’t get the hook. Dropping my rod and picking up the drop shot, I tossed it into the exact same spot as my previous cast and (to my amazement) instantly got a bite and hooked and landed a frenzied eight-inch yellow perch.

The lightbulbs went off and for the next two hours I caught and released more than 50 perch, watching 10 to 15 perch charging my worm on most casts. The slow start ended up being a perch bonanza.

On the drive home, I realized that it is not uncommon for trout, bass, and other species to go deep in the heat of summer and refuse to bite. However, smaller fish and in this case perch, were very active in less than four feet of water all over the reservoir. My new beginning for Red Fleet Reservoir was a great success, and don’t worry, I’ll be back.

Don Allphin can be reached


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