Have you heard the stories about how fishing was so good in the 80’s? We could go and catch 20 fish limits of salmon by noon almost any day of the year. Lake trout fishing was just being discovered and the lake trout anglers had a lot to learn. Let’s “flash” forward to 2018 and think about salmon fishing. It’s incredible at Blue Mesa and Wolford but what happened to Green Mountain, Eleven Mile, Williams Fork and others?

GILL LICE has destroyed some of Colorado’s best salmon fisheries.

Green Mountain Reservoir, once a prominent salmon fishery has been destroyed. The biologist at Green Mountain is trying an experiment; don’t stock any salmon for 4 years. Let the hosts die off and maybe they will take the lice with them. He is also not stocking rainbows, trying everything possible to get rid of any hosts.  http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Fishery%20Survey%20Summaries/GreenMountainReservoir.pdf

Williams Fork reservoir used to produce 1-2 million eggs, (in 2007 a record year of 4 million eggs) this year produced about only 150,000 eggs. The DOW will halt egg operations at Williams Fork after this year. The lack of salmon in the run is the reason why.   http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Fishery%20Survey%20Summaries/WilliamsForkReservoir.pdf

Eleven Mile reservoir used to be an incredible salmon fishery for limits of salmon pushing 20”. There are still a few in there but it will never be the fishery it was.   http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Fishery%20Survey%20Summaries/ElevenmileReservoir.pdf

Blue Mesa, the state’s largest salmon producer. It has produced runs of 17 million eggs. During the drought of 2012-13 they suffered from a large algae bloom which reduced the egg take to 3 million eggs. In 2016 they cut the daily salmon limit in ½. That year they had 17 million eggs. In 2016 Gill lice were found in 9% of the salmon with an average of 1/salmon. In 2017 the 68% of the salmon in the run had gill lice with an average of 2/fish. The run produced 16.7 million eggs. In 2018 87% of the salmon had gill lice with an average of 9/fish.   http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Fishery%20Survey%20Summaries/BlueMesaReservoir.pdf

Wolford reservoir is a “clean” lake for now. In 2018, it produced 2.957 million eggs. Wolford is critical for Colorado’s egg take. If Blue Mesa fails, the state will rely on Wolford to supply all the brood lakes. This will mean a lot of the other “salmon” lakes will be shorted or not stocked at all.   http://cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Fishery%20Survey%20Summaries/WolfordMountainReservoir.pdf

There are more lakes affected by this, but to keep interest in reading, I chose to only include the data above.

Everything I learned about gill lice makes me believe it is being spread around by private hatcheries. A land owner with a private pond calls it a hatchery. The hatchery dumps the contaminated trout in the pond. The outlet of the pond flows down to a reservoir, carrying the lice in the currents. Lice then attaches to a fish and proceeds to spread.

Our state hatcheries are governed by very strict rules. It seems as if they think something is wrong with fish or water they shut down the hatchery and disinfect and decontaminate it. Private hatcheries are not governed by the same rules as state hatcheries.

There is a board called “Fish Health Board” Here are their email addresses:






Here is an email for the CPW wildlife commission.


Elizabeth Brown heads the ANS program in Colorado.


The Fish Health Board consists of 5 members 1 CPW employee, 1 dept of agriculture employee, 2 private aquaculture people and a US Fish and Wildlife person. They decide what “bugs” are legal or illegal. For instance, whirling disease is illegal. They won’t make gill lice illegal, but I believe they should! Look at what is happening statewide!

Why are the private aquaculture guys outnumbering the state CPW employees? This system makes no sense to me. Why do the private guys outnumber the CPW guys and make the rules they have to follow?

Here is the way I see it. We are letting a couple guys that run hatcheries make a very good living dumping gill lice in our waters, which in turn is ruining our fisheries.

If you’re not a fan of fishing for salmon, think about this. In ALL the great lake trout fisheries across the west there is one common denominator: Kokanee Salmon. Every time a state record lake trout has been caught since the 90’s in Colorado, the lake that produced that fish had ample supplies of kokanee.

There is another factor in all of this. Drought cannot be controlled. It stratifies the lake and lumps all the salmon into a very tight band of the water column, which in no time will help spread these nasty little critters. Drought can cause algae blooms and numerous other problems.

I encourage everyone reading this to write the Fish Health Board, Elizabeth Brown and the wildlife commission (their contact info is above) and demand they make gill lice illegal. Then share this with your friends. We should be able to raise awareness of this problem and get it fixed before we lose more opportunities.