Free Fishing Weekend comes to rivers and lakes across Colorado June 6-7 | SummitDaily.com

Free Fishing Weekend comes to rivers and lakes across Colorado June 6-7

Consider Dillon Reservoir a sanctuary for Arctic char.

Yes, outside of Summit County, the sleek and slender species is only found in one other state in the lower 48. The cold-water fish was slowly introduced in the early 1990s to see if it could combat mysis shrimp, another non-native species that wildlife experts brought to the reservoir in the '70s to fatten up trout and salmon.

The shrimp plan backfired somewhat — the crustaceans started feasting on a natural food source, zooplankton — but by 2011, officials with Colorado Parks and Wildlife found the char were reproducing. And thriving.

"It is a unique fishery in that aspect," says Elissa Knox, local district wildlife manager for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "The char are starting to reproduce on their own, but now people are starting to target them more."

As Knox says, the Arctic char's success in Summit is drawing more and more anglers to the reservoir, which has a notorious reputation for hit-or-miss fishing. But don't let that dissuade you from chasing the still-elusive char.

This weekend and this weekend only, CPW invites anyone and everyone across Colorado to fish for free. That means no license, no fees, no hoops to pass through — just casting with friends, family and perhaps Arctic char.

"Family and the community play an important role when it comes to outdoor experiences," CPW director Bob Broscheid says. "Fishing is one of the many ways the whole family can enjoy the outdoors together."

And with more than 2,500 lakes, 10,000 miles of fishable rivers and nearly 300 miles of Gold Medal-caliber waters, including Summit's very own Blue River, the state offers plenty of opportunities to get lost with rod and lure.

Of course, free doesn't make fishing any easier. Take the Blue: Each autumn it hosts The America Cup fly-fishing tournament, drawing anglers from across the world to test their skills against surprisingly smart — and tantalizingly fat — cutthroat trout.

"It's challenging fishing because those fish get a lot of pressure," Knox says. "They're smart — you need really good technique to actually catch them."

If only weekend anglers were allowed to take their trophies home. The Gold Medal stretch of the Blue between Dillon Dam and Silverthorne town limits is catch and release only. You can chase the big trout — be sure to snap a few Instagram photos if you reel one in — but it will never go on your mantle.

Now back to the char. Like the Blue River, Dillon Reservoir has a slew of regulations. The bag limit is one per day over 20 inches, and Knox admits the vast majority of the reservoir's population is smaller than the limit. The fish may be reproducing, and reproducing more vigorously than ever expected, but CPW wants to protect the population for next summer's free fishing weekend — not to mention the novice anglers who fall in love with the sport this year.

"Creating a connection through shared outdoor experiences not only helps you learn about the sport of fishing," Broscheid says, "But also provides a unique bond for friends and families to remember for years to come."

Before heading out, visit the CPW website to find the 2015 Colorado fishing brochure and daily fishing reports for lakes and rivers across the state.

Rules of the river

Fishing may be free this weekend, but the rules still apply. Along with statewide regulations, Summit County has special limitations to protect local species and Gold Medal waterways like the Blue River.

Gold Medal Blue River (Dillon Dam to Silverthorne limits)

– Fly-fishing only, no bait or lures

– Bag limit: Catch and release only

Lower Blue River (Silverthorne to Green Mountain Reservoir)

– Fly-fishing and lure only, no bait

– Bag limit: Two over 16 inches, any species

Upper Blue River (Coyne Valley Road to Dillon Reservoir)

– Fly-fishing and lure only, no bait

– Trout bag limit: Two over 16 inches, any species

Dillon Reservoir

– Fly-fishing, lure and bait

– Arctic char bag limit: One over 20 inches

– Brown trout bag limit: Four per day, no size limit

– Rainbow trout: Four per day, no size limit

Green Mountain Reservoir

– Fly-fishing, lure and bait

– Lake trout bag limit: Eight per day, no size limit

Main Fork Swan River

– Fly and lure only, no bait

– Trout bag limit: Two over 16 inches, any species

North Fork Swan River

– Fly and lure only, no bait

– Bag limit: Two over 16 inches, any species

– Cutthroat bag limit: Catch and release, all sizes

Kokanee salmon

– Snagging permitted Sept. 1 to Dec. 31

– Bag limit: 10 per day, no size limit