Get your waders on, we're going fly-fishing!
Look out fish, there's a new fly-fishing sheriff in town
Caught; lure, line and sinker
Reelin' in the fish, one lure at a time
We talked to Matt Snider of FishExplorer.com about what brought him to Colorado, his favorite fish to catch and the journey that created his site.
Tell us how and when you first got into fishing.
My earliest memory of fishing is as a little boy in Ohio on a family trip to a friend’s cottage. One of the older boys boated me down to an inlet. I hooked a bluegill and, since I was so excited to pull it out of the water, the fish flew over my head and onto the road behind me. No one in my family loved fishing as much as I did.
Whenever I got the chance to go out with a family friend, it was like vacation, birthday and Christmas combined. I could spend hours on a dock fishing for nothing. My parents helped whenever they could — either setting up trips or taking me to local ponds. Fishing walleye in Lake Erie and its tributaries, canoeing a local river and dunking worms in a nearby apartment pond were all adventures for me.
You’re an avid warm-water fly fisherman. What do you love about it, and what are your favorite species to fish for in Colorado?
I began fly-fishing during college in upstate New York. I long dreamed of moving to Colorado and fly-fishing its miles and miles of gorgeous rivers. After college and a brief stint in Jackson, Wyoming, my future wife and I moved to Fort Collins, I took a job at a fly shop, and my fly-fishing journey took flight. Once I had enough river trout under my belt, I started fishing for wiper and smallmouth in the late ’90s.
Then I bought a boat and began looking for more challenges. Carp, wiper and tiger muskie all hold a special place in my heart for fish on the fly. Carp because they’re huge, smart and ultra-aware, making the catch very difficult. Wiper because of their intense power. And tiger muskie because, well, they’re a legendary fish — very hard to find, very hard to entice once you find them and very hard to land once you hook one. All three are beautiful in their own way and require much patience, thought and persistence (three aspects of fishing that really drive my passion).
What gave you the idea to start FishExplorer.com? What’s your goal with the site?
When I bought my boat, I didn’t know where I could launch it. I knew of a few lakes around me, but there was no list. That was puzzling to me. Also, I wanted to focus on wiper and tiger muskie, and again there was no list of where these fish were located. So I did some research, got some stocking data and talked with state aquatic biologists. Once I had this information, I thought it would be useful to other people.
A few things happened at that point. My friend Brian was between jobs, Google Maps came out with an API [editor’s note: a way for others to use their data on their own websites] and I had pages of notes on how we could put a good resource together. We thought that having a legitimate excuse to go fishing would be pretty fun. And so we started FishExplorer.com — all from scratch, no startup money, no models to work off of and no idea where it was heading. I started with the first line of code and an empty database, and now 12 years later have millions of lines of code and numerous good people helping to keep it going.
Researching for the site sounds like a lot of work — and a lot of fun. What were some of your most memorable discoveries/experiences along the way?
Traveling around Colorado with the excuse of taking pictures and investigating lakes and rivers has been one of the biggest joys of what I do. My favorite facet, however, is the people we meet along the way. There was a gathering of FishExplorer members at a nearby lake, in perhaps the second year of the site. I had nothing to do with organizing it but thought I ought to go and fish. I showed up to find a FishExplorer.com logo banner, tent, food and a couple dozen folks chatting and laughing. This is back when I didn’t think anyone knew about the site. It was crazy seeing a small community form in the wake of what we’d nurtured.
One of your goals is to catch every species Colorado has to offer on the fly. What species are left on your list?
Just some odd species, like freshwater drum, arctic char, bullhead, tiger trout.
What’s something that most people might not know about fishing in Colorado?
Most out-of-staters come here for the trout. I don’t blame them, — I did too. You can’t find freshwater trout thriving in most states. But what is so great about Colorado is its diversity of fishing opportunities. There are very active bass clubs in Colorado. I can walk down the block and catch trout and largemouth bass out of the same pond. I can ice fish for walleye 15 minutes from here or head an hour west and ice fish lake trout. I can also find small beautiful brook trout in meager meandering creeks within 30 minutes. It’s all here, you just have to pick a species and go.
Tell us about your all-time craziest/coolest fishing adventures in Colorado.
I got into fly-fishing walleye on Horsetooth Reservoir in Fort Collins and landed a state-record splake. It was this that drew [now defunct] Rocky Mountain News outdoors writer Ed Dentry to join me on an outing. We ended up catching a fair number of walleye, and he wrote a nice article and put FishExplorer on the map. We became friends and later fished for wiper on the fly. The plan was to fish three lakes starting early in the morning, moving south to north and catch wiper at each. A storm drove us off the first lake that morning morning, wiper-less, and the dark skies continued to threaten so Ed decided he would head back to his office. Somehow I persuaded him to drive to the next lake with me and see if the lightning would subside. He agreed, and after a short wait, we were able to get out in wet but nonelectrical conditions. We were fishing tight to shore and a red-winged blackbird, which was perched on a low branch, nearly became lunch for a largemouth bass that exploded out of the shallows. Ed got excited and threw a topwater fly in the vicinity, received the same treatment as the bird; he fought and nearly landed a monster of a bass but it shook the hook. The rest of that afternoon just got better, as we encountered school after school of big wiper and walleye in open water. It would go down for both of us as one of our favorite trips.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about what you do, or about adventure in Colorado?
Hug your state biologists — they manage our complicated watersheds for our fishing enjoyment among a plethora of oversight and regulations.