Quandary: Fish species in Lake Dillon | SummitDaily.com

Quandary: Fish species in Lake Dillon

2014 stocking in lake dillon

Species size quantity

Rainbow 10” 18,157

Rainbow 4” 358,586

Arctic char 4” 32,770



Quandary, the old and wise mountain goat, has been around Summit County for ages, and has the answers to all questions about life, love and laws in the High Country. Have a question for Quandary? Email your queries about Summit and the High Country to Quandary@summitdaily.com.

Dear Quandary,

What kinds of fish are there in Lake Dillon and how can I tell the difference between them?

Well, Steve is a little shy and mostly hangs out in the shallows, but I’m guessing that’s probably not what you meant.

There are three varieties of trout in Lake Dillon along with Kokanee salmon and Arctic char. The char is the big draw for Dillon since it is the only lake in the lower 48 — excluding Maine — where they can be caught. Maybe not so surprisingly, most documented catches have been during ice-fishing season, but there is a chance you can bring one in during the summer as well. However, these fish are the up-and-coming divas of the fishing world — they have just been introduced and so get treated differently because they are just so darn special. Arctic char have been stocked in Dillon annually since 2008, but are just starting to get bigger numbers and sizes. To keep the growth going, if you catch and Arctic char it must be 20 inches for you to keep it, otherwise get it back in the water immediately — like I said, they’re sensitive little fellows and can’t stand to be out of the water long.

Though emotionally less sturdy, they are similar in appearance to some of their trout brethren you find in Lake Dillon, but there are some key differences. As with any good diva, they have a more slender body than most fish, and unlike brookies, they have no halos around their spots. Their mouths are also smaller than what you find on most lake trout or brookies.

Even if you don’t find an Arctic char on the other end of your line, you still have a good chance of coming home with dinner. Brown and rainbow trout are regulars in the lake, and you’ll occasionally see a cutthroat come in from the Snake River inlet. The difference between rainbows and browns is pretty self-explanatory: Browns have a spotted body that’s mostly brown in color, and rainbows have a colorful streak running down their sides, though they are also spotted. Cutthroats and rainbows can sometimes be confused, but again, just look at the names to see the difference. The cutthroat has a red or orange slash going right under their jaw and most of their other color runs along the belly. Don’t worry, whoever named these fine fish wasn’t some 10th-grade teacher on a power trip; no one is trying to trip you up, and you can pretty much take each fish for face value.

Since the lake trout are of hardy stock, and have been brought into Dillon since the ‘70s, they no longer receive any special treatment. Like the great unwashed masses of most all of Colorado’s lake trout, you are welcome to take a daily bag limit of four, as long as the fish is at least 10 inches long. Browns especially have been getting bigger in Lake Dillon, and average about 16 inches now, though the largest ones can go over 20 — a study in 2012 even caught one portly swimmer totaling 24 inches and 9.3 pounds.

Finally, the fish that gets even less special treatment than the trout is the Kokanee. Kokanees haven’t even been stocked in Lake Dillon since 1978, but these hardy little guys have managed to survive all by themselves. So well in fact, that you can take 10 of them at a time. If the Arctic char is the lake’s diva, these guys are the buskers out hitting the streets just doing whatever it takes to get by. They do have some similarities though. For both the Arctic char and Kokanee, their colors will vary greatly depending on if they’re spawning — in that case both fish will have a lot more orange in their scales. The rest of the time, Kokanee are one of the lightest colored under-water breathers you’ll pull out of Dillon: They’re light blue, usually, with black spots on their backs and forked tails.

Just in case you’re like old Quandary and only ever manage to bring in seaweed and other people’s lost tackle, don’t worry there are plenty of places in Summit that sell fish tacos.

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