Although a drought's aftermath continues to nag the network of fertile jewels that warm-water anglers covet along the lower Arkansas River Valley, some fairly good fishing could be in the offing for 2006.
The trick will be figuring out how to launch boats into water that, in nearly every case, has been shrinking away again from historic shorelines. For example, take a look at popular Nee Noshe Reservoir, if you can spot what's left of it a mile out there.
"Nee Noshe and Nee Gronde didn't receive any fresh flows through the canal system last year, so they've lost ground," said Jim Ramsay, the division biologist whose onerous job entails maintaining fisheries prone to drying up or pouring through irrigation dams.
"We're probably about the same as last year on fish numbers. But as far as water levels go, we're in worse shape than last year."
Capable of spreading across 3,500 surface acres when full, Nee Noshe shriveled to 635 acres last summer. When the north boat ramp went belly up, Kiowa County built a mile-long road out into the lake bed so the Division of Wildlife could keep extending a new gravel and grid boat ramp on the south side.
Nee Gronde, the deepest of the Great Plains Lakes, doesn't lose water to evaporation as fast as Nee Noshe. So Nee Gronde is in better shape, at 1,900 surface acres.
When fishing reopens April 1, a public, gravel ramp on its south bank should be serviceable to shallow draft boats.
Fishing could have remained closed through the spring snow-goose hunt, which federal waterfowl officials extended to April 30 this year. But Colorado wildlife managers decided to retain the April 1 opener.
It's anybody's guess how the water might flow in the next two months, but things don't look quite as good as last year. The latest Snotel snowpack readings, for early January, measured 110 percent of average, or 19 percent lower than in January 2005.
The huge John Martin Reservoir filled with last year's ample runoff, swelling to 80,000 acre-feet volume. But irrigation calls drove it down to a mere 8,200 acre-feet by the end of summer.
"That's hard on our stocking efforts," Ramsay said. "It's like pulling the drain on a bathtub."
? John Martin Reservoir: The division doesn't stock white bass, but they've been reproducing like mad. Half of all fish in Ramsay's nets were white bass, averaging 8 inches and stretching to 16 1/2 inches. Saugeye and wiper numbers are up some, and crappies are in evidence. Gizzard shad numbers have fallen, which should make for hungrier sport fish.
? Nee Noshe Reservoir: "It's fish soup out there," Ramsay said. Despite the low water, Nee Noshe still holds plenty of big wipers, saugeyes and crappie. The new south ramp should be serviceable April 1, but anglers are cautioned to keep vehicles off the slick sand if rain is expected.