Trophy pike and adult trout are in balance at Stagecoach |

Trophy pike and adult trout are in balance at Stagecoach

Stagecoach Reservoir State Park

Daily admission at Stagecoach Reservoir State Park is $5. The reservoir is 15 miles south of Steamboat Springs via Colorado Highway 131 and Routt County Road 14. Be aware that a major highway-widening project can cause traffic delays of 10 minutes along the route.


Colorado Division of Wildlife biologist Billy Atkinson believes his agency has developed a successful strategy for managing trophy pike in Stagecoach Reservoir while maintaining a healthy supply of fat rainbows for the crowds of summer campers and anglers who visit the state park.

Although the DOW did not place pike in the reservoir south of Steamboat, they are there, and the possibility of catching pike in the 30- to 40-inch range in Stagecoach presents a thrill for a number of anglers. However, after the feeding frenzy of June, the big fish go deep in search of colder water, Atkinson said. Essentially, by the time the park is at its busiest in July and August, the pike are no longer catchable for most anglers.

During the 1990s, the DOW stocked fingerling trout in Stagecoach, an exercise that amounted to feeding the pike, Atkinson observed. In June of 2001, he placed a series of six gill nets extending from the shore of Stagecoach into the lake to sample fish populations. The nets are 6 feet tall and 150 feet in length. He places them in the same location very June. In 2001, the nets produced just two trout in excess of 14 inches.

Later that year, in November, Atkinson and his colleagues returned to stocking trout in Stagecoach. But this time, instead of stocking fingerlings, they stocked trout that were already 12 to 13 inches in length.

Atkinson knows that by November, pike are feeding at just one-10th of the rate they do in June. Atkinson also knows that pike are capable of eating other fish that weigh up to 45 percent of their own body weight. That means smaller pike can’t victimize trout in the 13-inch range. And Atkinson is able to project that by the time the pike resume their voracious habits in June of the following year, trout stocked in November of the previous year will have grown to almost 15 inches. It takes a 31-inch pike to eat one of those trout.

“We’re able to manage for trophy pike, but stunt those under 30 inches,” Atkinson said.

After just one winter, the fisheries biologist was beginning to see the results of the new strategy. In June 2002, where he had found just two trout longer than 14 inches in his nets, he found 65. And in June 2002, he trapped 70. The number in 2003 dropped back to 65. Of course, the samples taken in the gill nets are just a small fraction of the total number of larger trout in the lake.

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