Lily Lake pretty ... and quiet

The liquid-silver surface of Lily Lake mirrors the immense natural beauty of the surrounding forest. The lake, the smallest of those in the complex of Cottonwood Lakes, is stocked by plane every other year and it’s scheduled for its next stocking this fall.

Like an exotic flower appearing in the forest, this showy Mycena pura is considered nonpoisonous although some Mycena mushroom contain potentially dangerous toxin.

Octavio Nieto of Grand Junction admires the brace of rainbow trout he caught recently at Cottonwood Lake No. 4. He said it was his first-ever rainbow trout and his first-ever fishing trip.

Looking up from the rainbow trout he was unhooking, the angler nodded toward the dark trees on the other side of Cottonwood Lake No. 4.

“You want to see a real pretty lake?” he asked, sharing another of his life-time supply of insider hints about fishing Grand Mesa. “You ever been to Lily Lake? It’s not that far and it’s one the prettiest lakes I’ve ever seen.”

When asked if there were any fish in Lily Lake to make the hike worthwhile, he shrugged, then nodded.

“I guess. I haven’t been there for years, like maybe 25,” he said, and suddenly more than his hands smelled fishy. “But I never fished there, I always went with my grandpa, who was fishing.”

That conversation happened a few years ago, which means I probably couldn’t ask Grandpa about fishing Lily Lake, one of the lesser-known lakes in the complex of Cottonwood Lakes.

It’s the smallest lake of the lot and according to my well-worn copy of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s tome, Fishing The Grand Mesa, the fishing pressure there is “light.”

This typically translates to either A) it’s hard to get reach or, B) ain’t no fish.

For now, try B.

A recent morning walk got me from Cottonwood 4 to Lily Lake in 20 minutes, and the other guy was right, Lily Lake is one of the prettiest lakes on the mesa.

Pretty quiet, that is.

A lake surface like polished mercury reflected angel-white morning clouds, a slide of rocks edging along the far bank and an immense bed of water lilies stretching along the north bank.

A log half-submerged among the lilies brought back memories of a Louisiana alligator sliding along a bayou.

But in 90 minutes, nothing sullied the lake’s glassy surface except the dark snout of a beaver weaving along the far shore.

I wonder if Grandpa really was catching trout or simply “fishing.”

A quick call to Lori Martin, fisheries biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Northwest Region, got an equally quick response.

“It’s on the schedule as part of our fixed-wing stocking program,” Martin said, sounding perplexed over the “no fish” report. “Typically we stock those higher lakes on the Mesa County side every other year, so we’ll be doing some stocking up there this year.”

She said records show Lily Lake has been stocked since the early 1970s, initially with rainbow trout and then more recently with cutthroat trout after the agency switched to cutthroats for the state’s higher lakes.

Martin noted Lily hadn’t been stocked since 2012.

“Even though we stock it every other year,  a lot can happen in those off-years,” she said. “We haven’t been up there to sample it recently, and some of those lakes get hit harder from winter to winter. We had such a cold winter last year, it may have winter killed.”

Aerial stocking typically occurs in August and September for a couple of reasons, one being the availability of pilots and the other the availability of fish.

“We like the fish to get to a particular size for an aerial plant,” Martin said. “And it also depends on what fish our hatcheries have available.”

In comparison, most of the Cottonwood Lakes get regular visits from the stocking truck, and back at Cottonwood 4, Octavio Nieto was admiring two fat rainbows he had pulled from the lake.

“These are the first fish I’ve ever caught,” said the 15-year-old from Grand Junction. “In fact, this is the first time I’ve ever gone fishing.”

He’s a fast learner, for it wasn’t long before he pounced as another fish was making off with his bait.

“Hey, I got it, no, I missed it,” he said with a laugh, reeling in an empty line.

It won’t be long before Octavio and other anglers might have a real tussle on their hands.

Parks and Wildlife recently stocked 2,100 4-inch tiger trout, a hybrid of brook trout and brown trout, in Cottonwood 4 as part of an effort to reduce the hefty population of fathead minnows.

“We also stocked tiger trout in the Griffith Lakes,” Martin said. “It probably will be a year or so before anglers start to see them, but it will add to the diversity of what they can catch on Grand Mesa.”


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