Red Feather Storage & Irrigation Company (RFS&I) owns and manages eight private fishing lakes located in Red Feather Lakes. While these lakes are smaller and shallower than modern day reservoirs, they are excellent fisheries for trout. We have two types of fishing, catch and release at two of our lakes for the fly and lure fisherman; and bait fishing (along with fly and lures) at the other six lakes. This page discusses a brief history of the lakes, fishery management, answers some of the most common questions, and points to a more detailed discussion of each lake.
History - during the late 1800's and early 1900's, the lakes in Red Feather were built and managed as a source for irrigation. In the 1920's, Red Feather became a destination for recreation; camping, hiking, hunting, boating and of course, fishing. In 1948 a group of Red Feather citizens formed the Red Feather Storage & Irrigation Company, with the purpose to own and provide private fishing to the residents. During the 50's and 60's, Hiawatha, Nokomis, Ramona, Snake and Letitia rotated on a bi-annual basis; meaning - stock the lake and let the fish grow one year, then open it to fishing the next year. By the late 60's there was too much fishing pressure, so the Company moved to having all lakes open for fishing every year. From the late 60's to early 80's, three lakes were brought on-line; Shagwa, Erie, and Apache; which added 33% more fishing area to the program. Additionally, the Company has been improving both the supply ditches and lake structures in order to allow maximum water storage and safety per our water decrees.
For a more detailed history of Red Feather or the Company, visit Red Feather Historical Society
or the Red Feather Lakes Library for books and oral histories about the area.
Fishery Management - our relatively shallow lakes and slightly alkaline chemistry combine to create a prolific mountain fishery. There are many goals and factors that go into the management of the fisheries:
- Fish species - we focus on providing a trout fishery that features many varieties of trout. They include, rainbows, browns, brooks, cutthroats, palominos, and cutbows. The majority of the trout are rainbows, but others are mixed in based on availability from our supplier or specific goals we have for that particular lake. For example, cutthroats and brooks are particularly hard to get at a reasonable cost. We stock cutbows, which are a cross between cutthroats and rainbows, because they are more disease resistant. Palomino Trout are a white to yellow color variation of rainbows as a result of the crossing a Golden Rainbow Trout (a different species than the California Golden Trout) and a Rainbow Trout. Palominos are known for their aggressive feeding, fast growth rate and resistance to some diseases.
- Fish sizes - we primarily stock 12-14" fish, except for brooks which we can only buy in smaller sizes. About 15% of our stocking are trophy sized, ranging from 2-5 pounds.
- Stocking - each lake has a custom stocking plan based on the productivity of its fishery and the keep rate by fishermen. Overall, we stock about 125-150 pounds of fish per surface acre. However, at our catch and release lakes we reduce the stocking rates because the majority of fish are returned to the water. Primary stocking occurs in April, June and September.
- Weed control - one of our larger challenges involves controlling excessive growth of both algae and rooted aquatic weeds to maintain healthy and balanced water quality conditions as well as for providing shoreline access in target areas. The problematic algae are mainly planktonic algae (causes poor water clarity), algae mats, and muskgrass. The problem rooted aquatic plants include water buttercup (small white flowers on the surface), water milfoil and occasionally curly leaf pondweed. Excessive vegetative growth can cause fluctuating oxygen levels and abnormally high pH levels which negatively affect the fishery. We use a combination of chemical and biological control. We outsource weed control to a licensed expert who comes throughout the summer to chemically treat the lakes. Additionally, we use grass carp for biological control. These are expensive fish, if you catch one - carefully return it to the water.
- Fishermen input - key to managing the fisheries is the input from our fishermen. Our patrolmen collect creel data (how many fishermen, how many fish kept, etc.). And we have survey data from Apache, Nokomis, and Shagwa; so that we can gather species and size information. These inputs help us better tune our stocking plans and take action on any concerns or ideas fishermen have.
- Water management - as our name suggests (Storage & Irrigation), we're all about running water! Not only is this key to the fisheries, it's also critical to the overall wellbeing of Red Feather Lakes. Water is diverted out of North Lone Pine Creek through the Mitchell Ditch and sub-ditches and delivered to our lakes in the priority order of our decrees. There are considerable efforts taken to optimize our water storage, both during the water season and through our continuous maintenance and asset development initiatives.
- Water quality - we annually monitor the chemistry of the lakes, looking at dissolved oxygen, pH, nitrogen, phosphates, and E.coli. If there's an unusual fishery event (summer kill, outside discharge into the lake, etc.), we'll spot check that lake's water chemistry.
Challenges - as any aqua-farmer will attest, there are a lot of factors in managing a fishery. Some of the issues outside the topics mentioned above include:
- Disease - the disease fishermen will see in our lakes is Gill Lice. It's a small parasite that attaches to the fish's gills. Outbreaks happen in higher stress situations such as warmer water temperatures, crowding, etc. While it makes the fish unattractive, the fish are safe to eat. There is no easy means to treat the fish or eradicate the disease. Per our biologist's recommendation, we stock other disease resistant varieties so that there are fewer fish affected by the parasite.
- Summer fish kills - it's not uncommon to have a small summer kill (on the order of tens of fish) at any of our lakes. These are very localized and can happen for any number of reasons, but most typically it's fish being trapped in a low dissolved oxygen area of the lake.
- Perch and other invasive fish species - this is one of our more challenging management issues. Over the years, we've had a sucker infestation at Snake, which was eradicated by killing the entire lake. And we've had a perch infestation at Shagwa (again, killed the lake to eradicate it). Years ago perch also took hold in Apache, however, eradication on that scale is cost prohibitive, and so we've been using biological control. We initially used Tiger Muskee to knock down the population. We then moved to our present day strategy of using Walleye and Browns to keep the perch in check. Unfortunately, the perch moved downstream to Nokomis, and we're using similar biological means to control the perch there. We have seen a few perch in Ramona, but so far these have not populated to the extent of Nokomis or Apache. We ask fishermen who catch perch to keep or toss them all (never return them to the lake), perch are not counted against your S&I bag limit.
- Availability of fish varieties - browns, brooks, and cutthroats are difficult to acquire on an annual basis. For this reason, not every lake has every variety. But overall, we're pleased to provide a wide variety of trout to our fishermen.
- Fishing memberships - must be a current member to fish, see Contact for reaching the office for more information (might also look at the current Dues for cost information).
- Fishing rules - see Rules for the current fishing regulations, especially note the lakes that have unique rules (possession or slot limits). We patrol the lakes and will fine rule breakers, and if necessary, report violators to Colorado Parks and Wildlife for legal action.
- Catch and Release fishing (no bait, must use single barbless hooks) - Nokomis and Shagwa.
- Boating (properly registered watercraft, no motors) allowed on - Apache, Erie, Hiawatha, Nokomis, and Letitia. Boaters must follow RFS&I's boating rules, including removing all boats from the lakes by Oct 31.
Lakes - following are in-depth overviews of each lake, highlighting their history, fishery description, topographic map, and specific facts (location, size, etc.).
|Surface Area, AF
|Max Depth, ft
|All, Walleye, Perch
|All, more Browns
|Catch & Rls
|Catch & Rls
Fishing: "Catch & Release" is limited to barbless single hook flies and lures. And the possession limit is one fish (as in "keep one, you're done"). "All types", also allows bait fishing (you must keep fish caught with bait), see the rules about possession limits and other restrictions.
Species: "All" includes Rainbows, Browns, Cutbows, Palominos, and if available - Brooks or Cutthroats. Grass Carp are stocked in all lakes.
Best ways to handle and release fish - With more fishermen doing catch-and-release fishing, it is very important when releasing a fish to follow these guidelines:
- Single barbless hooks are required at Shagwa and Nokomis, and encouraged at all the lakes
- Trout have a very delicate protective coating on their skin to defend against diseases, protecting this is key to their health
- Do not play fish until completely fatigued and keep the fish in the water
If possible, net the fish with a "rubber mesh" net and remove the hook without touching the fish.
Steps to unhook and release a fish:
- Wet your hands prior to handling the fish so not to remove the protective slime layer
- Do not squeeze the sides of the fish as it will damage internal organs and keep your fingers away from the gills
- Gently remove the hook, if possible, with forceps. The less the fish is handled the better chance the fish will survive
- If necessary, revive the fish by holding it near the tail and moving it back and forth in the water to force water through the gills
- The fish will swim off under its own power when revived
- If you cannot revive the fish, you must keep the fish, do not discard the fish