Free Fishing

 Fishy feast, if you cook it right: a largemouth bass in its watery habitat. (Courtesy photo)

“Fishing is one of the most popular pastimes in our state,” Bridget Kochel said.

It’s Kochel’s job to point this out. She’s a spokesman for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, after all. More importantly, the facts are on her side: last year, more than one million fishing licenses were sold in Colorado.

Through the rest of today — Sunday — you don’t need to purchase a license to get a taste of what compels so many anglers from all over the world to Colorado’s 9,000 miles of trout streams, 167.8 miles of which have been deemed “Gold Medal” (a designation awarded by the state’s wildlife commission for “the highest-quality aquatic habitat”). 

“This is Free Fishing Weekend,” Kochel said, an annual event that offers non-anglers a chance to get out and try fishing for the first time. “It helps out economy, and allows people to get outside,” she said. “It’s a very nice flow of conservation and recreation. Fishing is the epitome of balancing recreation with mindful conservation; you’re enjoying an outdoor hobby, while also giving back to wildlife” by helping maintain and conserve wildlife habitat. 

What’s more, the state has made fishing success easy: CPW’s “free fishing weekend” web page includes a primer on how to select bait for what you want to catch; links to a weekly fishing report from the state’s lakes; a fishing “atlas,’ which shows the waters available to fish; and a stocking report, which details “the lakes, ponds and rivers that have been stocked with catchable (9 to 12 inch) trout in Colorado.”

Download a pair of apps for even more education: the CPW Fishing App (which can be used without an internet connection) provides “great learning and scouting abilities,” and a new app, “Match a Hatch,” “helps anglers identify the flies that are hatching in Colorado each month and find an appropriate artificial fly to use to fish.”

Free fishing may end today, but opportunities to land the big one continue: there are “new opportunities” to land largemouth and bluegill at Sweitzer Lake State Park, north of Montrose, for example. 

Ontario chef-caterer Nicholas Heideman recommends that largemouth bass be marinated, rolled in a pecan-herb crust, grilled and served with a glass of crisp, New Zealand sauvignon blanc in an article in Wine Enthusiast. “They’re such rough and tough fighting fish, and they’re such fun to catch,” he says of these fish.

There’s also a lake trout tournament on at Blue Mesa Reservoir Fishery through the end of next month, which includes $10,000 in prize money and (most importantly) the opportunity to help assist in ensuring “adequate kokanee fry survival” from the predations of lake trout. 

“Anglers value both kokanee and lake trout opportunities,” CPW’s website points out. It’s a matter of managing these fish for the betterment of all (“Unsustainable levels of predation by lake trout can lead to declines in kokanee abundance and in lake trout growth and body condition”). 

CPW has also a created a contest for “mentors who take the time to pass on their knowledge” — its Take a Friend Fishing Contest is now in its third consecutive year, for “mentors and mentees” 21 years and older. 

The glistening waters beckon. 

“So many people have been trying new outdoor activities,” Kochel said. “We have over 35 species of fish in Colorado, and miles of streams. This weekend” — and beyond — “there’s a fantastic opportunity to learn more.”