CMC's Denver Fly Fishing Section
Colorado's Brook Trout
By Dennis McKinney
Article published 6/30/06 in the Outdoors Journal of the Colorado Division of Wildlife
The brook trout, Salvelinus fontinalis, is an engaging fish. Nearly every trout fisher that I know, young and old alike, has fond memories concerning the beautiful little trout that inhabit most of Colorado’s mountain streams. Many anglers remember a brook trout as being first at something or other; their first trout caught from a stream, first trout on a fly rod, first trout on a spinning rod, first trout on something other than a worm, first trout cooked over a campfire beside a moonlit mountain lake, first trout (fill in the blank).
Eastern brook trout are good at being first. Pioneers of a sort, they were the first salmonid species introduced into Colorado, beating the California rainbows by ten years. In late 1872, Denver Alderman, James M. Broadwell, obtained 10,000 fertile brook trout eggs from a fish culturist in Boscobel, Wisconsin and hatched them at his facility located on the South Platte River ten miles north of Denver. According to newspaper accounts from the era, this is the earliest known fish hatchery in Colorado.
Broadwell raised the brook trout alongside what was known then as Rocky Mountain trout (native cutthroats), which he had procured from Colorado waters. He hatched the eggs in flowing water channeled through plank troughs lined with clean gravel, and then raised the young fish on a diet of thickened milk, boiled eggs (grated fine), and boiled liver. Older fish received rations of raw liver and raw beef.
Soon, other private hatcheries began springing up, including one at Manitou Park operated by William A. Bell. In 1874 and 1875, Bell obtained and hatched 100,000 brook trout eggs from New York at his facility located in the mountains west of Colorado Springs. Brook trout were the darlings of the early hatcheries. Bell exalted the brook trout over the native trout as better tasting, more wary and therefore more sporting, and more successful at spawning.
William R. Scott, a fish culturist from Morrison stated in the July 19, 1897 issue of Sports Afield, “… it (brook trout) is probably the best known and most admired of all the fishes in Colorado to-day, and if any man says anything derogatory to its character, he is sure to have a contention on his hands …"
Brook trout are easily distinguished from other trout by light-colored vermiculated (wavy) lines on a dark green back, and by white stripes on the leading edges of the fins. The olive-colored sides are freckled with bright red and yellow spots rimmed in light blue halos. The abdomen varies in color from milky white in younger fish to a light orange in adults. During spawn, coloration becomes more vibrant and the abdomen turns brick red. Tails are square at the back, not forked as in cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout.
The prolific brook trout often produce too many offspring, resulting in populations of stunted fish. However, many anglers boast of a secret beaver pond or stream where the brookies are “sixteen inches and better”. The state-record brook trout weighed 7-pound 10-ounces and came from Upper Cataract Lake in Summit County in 1947. It is the oldest and the longest standing record on the Colorado books.
Finding brook trout is easy; high country streams are full of them. Drive to almost any creek or stream above 10,000 feet and peek through the willows or over a beaver dam. Most streams will have a self-sustaining population of wild brook trout that likely are descendants of the 19th Century pioneers. Brook trout are willing players for anglers casting bait and lures on light tackle but nothing quite compares with the sight of a colorful brook trout taking a dry fly from the surface of a beaver pond or mountain stream.
Today, brook trout are mostly on their own in the wild, successfully reproducing in scores of mountain streams and beaver ponds, often to the dismay of Division of Wildlife (DOW) fish biologists. Hearty brook trout populations can complicate restoration efforts for re-establishing native cutthroat trout populations.
Nevertheless, the DOW continues to stock brook trout in a limited number of waters. Approximately 200,000 catchable and sub-catchable brook trout are spawned in hatcheries for distribution in places such as Andrews Lake, Big Creek Lakes (lower lake), Cowdrey Lake, Dome Lake, Delaney Butte Lakes (south and east lakes), Haviland Lake, Red Feather Lakes, and San Cristobal Lake.
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