9Adventures: Where do the fish in Colorado lakes and reservoirs come from?

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LAKE GEORGE, Colo. — People fish so much in Colorado, it’s become a $1.9 billion industry in the state, according to Colorado Parks & Wildlife (CPW).

Lakes and rivers state-wide need thousands of fish to keep up with demand. CPW focuses on those numbers to provide enough supply — breeding, hatching, rearing and stocking more than 90 million fish each year for Colorado’s waterways.

Popular fishing spots get truckloads of fish each season from one of CPW’s 19 hatcheries across the state. The reservoir at Eleven Mile State Park in Park County is a hot spot for 57,000 anglers each year. The state park itself attracts 350,000 visitors annually.

All of that traffic means revenue for the state, said Tyler Swarr, an aquatic biologist with CPW.

“Just from fishing, Eleven Mile brings in about $5.8 million annually to the state of Colorado,” Swarr said.

Stocking enough of the right kind of fish each year is crucial so that fishermen continue to come back.

“Many years ago, an 8-inch trout was what everybody wanted,” said Bryan Johnson, a manager at Mt. Shavano Hatchery. “Now, they want a 10-inch trout.

“A lot of these small towns, they’re supported by the anglers coming and visiting the state park right here,” he said. “So we stock 10-inch trout now.”

Johnson is one of the people at CPW responsible for stocking Eleven Mile Reservoir. Already this year, the reservoir has been stocked with 115,000 10-inch cutbow.

All 115,000 of them started as eggs back in the fall of 2018 that were shipped to Mt. Shavano Hatchery in Salida from the Crystal River Fish Hatchery in Carbondale.

“We got these in the hatchery as eggs in November of 2018,” Johnson said. “They lived on the hatchery for 14 or 15 months.”

The fish grew to 10-inches by 2020 — the right size for Eleven Mile Reservoir — and all 115,000 were delivered in batches by March.

“Before I worked for CPW,” Johnson said, “I didn’t know that hatcheries existed. It’s just not something that you realize. You just expect there will be fish there when you go to the lake. You expect that everything’s taking care of itself.”

It turns out, CPW plays a much bigger role in the fishing eco-system than Johnson once knew. Now, the hatchery manager leads the way in making sure thousands of fish grow and are delivered — months later — on time, and where they belong.

“Ya know, my favorite part about this part of the job is just what’s on the other end. Like these guys out here ice fishing, even open water fishing,” Johnson said. “They catch a fish and we’re like ‘Oh, we raised that at Mt. Shavano and then they got rewarded with that trout.’ That’s pretty special.”

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