Fishing tournament part of movement to weed out smallmouths, northern pike in Colorado

Nice northern pike may be a draw at some fisheries across the northern tier of the country and in Canada, but not in Colorado.

CRAIG, Colo. – Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating impressive numbers after the 2017 Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic in its fight against a pair of invasives.

This year’s event saw a sharp increase in several important measures, including prizes, participation and the number of northern pike and smallmouth bass – species not native to the Colorado River drainage – caught by anglers of all ages and abilities.

A recently compiled post-tournament tally showed 332 anglers caught 1,359 fish, including 963 smallmouth bass and 396 northern pike. The totals are a marked increase from the tournament’s first run in 2016, when 56 anglers caught only 582 fish.

The Colorado Water Conservation Board provided funding for the tournament, allocated from the Colorado Legislature’s Species Conservation Trust Fund.

Since 2015, along with the help of several local anglers, CPW has stocked numerous warmwater sport fish into Elkhead Reservoir, including 50 foot-long black crappie, 127,051 largemouth bass fry, 672 largemouth bass (each approximately eight inches in length); 120 largemouth bass averaging over 21 inches in length, 30,000 juvenile black crappie, and 15,000 juvenile bluegill.

According to the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, of which CPW is a partner, all recently stocked species are compatible with Colorado’s endangered native fish found in the Yampa River and other rivers in the Upper Colorado River Basin. However, northern pike and smallmouth bass – two predator fish currently established in Elkhead Reservoir and many other waters across western Colorado – rank high on the list of primary impediments to native fish recovery.

In fall 2016, CPW and its partners in the Recovery Program installed a $1.3 million net across the reservoir’s spillway. Funded by the Colorado Water Conservation Board and Recovery Program partners, the net’s design allows water to spill while at the same time reducing the escapement of smallmouth bass and northern pike into critical habitat for the endangered Colorado pikeminnow in the Yampa River.

According to the manufacturer, the net could last between 10-15 years. Due to its relatively short lifespan, it is considered a temporary remedy for the problem of nonnative fish in Elkhead Reservoir. However, the net gives the Recovery Program and CPW time to implement permanent strategies aimed at reducing smallmouth bass and northern pike populations. The Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic is a major component of the overall effort.

To aid in reducing their numbers, CPW and Recovery Program partners also encourage anglers to catch and keep northern pike and smallmouth bass in the many western Colorado waters with established populations of the predatory fish. In addition, through cash and prize incentives like the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic and the public’s help and support, CPW officials say detrimental warmwater fish populations across the region can ultimately be controlled, helping bring native fish recovery efforts to a successful conclusion.

— Colorado Parks and Wildlife

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