Colorado Tournament Aimed at Reducing Smallmouths, Northern Pike
CRAIG, Colo. - Colorado Parks and Wildlife is celebrating impressive numbers after the 2017 Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic concluded on a high note in early July. 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 growth in interest and participation is a major step forward for what we are trying to achieve at Elkhead," said CPW's NW Region Senior Aquatic Biologist Lori Martin. "From little kids to old timers, everyone had a great time and caught a lot of fish. We anticipate even greater interest next year. This is a good thing for the reservoir and the Yampa River, in addition to being a boon for the local economy."
Spurred by the chance of winning prizes and money, anglers from across the state traveled to the northwest region reservoir to test their skills. A few went home considerably richer for their efforts, like Tom Bowser of Craig who earned $1,500 for landing the 2017-tagged smallmouth bass. Because no one caught the 2017-tagged northern pike, a drawing from the pool of contestants resulted in Don Edward of Steamboat Springs taking home $1,500. In addition, several anglers took home a portion of $5,000 in total prizes and cash for catching the most smallmouth and pike, or catching the smallest or largest of each species.
The Colorado Water Conservation Board provided funding for the tournament, allocated from the Colorado Legislature's Species Conservation Trust Fund.
"Quite a nice reward for just a few hours of fishing," said Park Manager Jacob Brey of Elkhead Reservoir State Park. "But what's important to note, not only did these anglers win some great prizes they also actively participated in positive fishery management, one of several goals for this tournament and the reservoir."
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, each 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.
"Because of the significant threat they pose to the state's native fish, we must replace northern pike and smallmouth bass with warmwater sport fish compatible with native fish recovery and conservation efforts," said Martin. "However, fishery management goals like these cannot be met quickly and effectively without the assistance and cooperation of the angling community."