June and July featured two free fishing tournaments at Elkhead Reservoir State Park and Ridgway State Park. Anglers who participated in the tournaments could catch and keep as many non-native smallmouth bass from both Ridgway and Elkhead Reservoirs, and non-native northern pike from Elkhead, as possible.
Funding from the Colorado Water Conservation Board and their Species Conservation Trust Fund allowed each tournament to offer both daily and tournament winner prizes to successful anglers. Anglers may have been lured by the thousands of dollars in cash rewards and fishing gear, but the true purpose of these tournaments is protecting native fish species and water users downstream of the reservoirs in the Gunnison and Yampa rivers.
A key goal of these harvest incentive programs is to engage anglers with non-native fish control projects. Anglers use their skills to help CPW remove these species and play a hands-on role in wildlife management and conservation. CPW has determined this program is more effective and efficient than CPW removal efforts alone.
The 2nd annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic tournament took place June 24th through July 2nd. This tournament targeted both smallmouth bass and northern pike, with no bag or possession limits. A total of 332 anglers removed 963 smallmouth bass and 395 northern pike, for a total of 1,358 fish. Smallmouth bass ranged in size from four to 19 inches, and northern pike ranged in size from three to 41 inches.
Tournament tickets were awarded for each fish harvested, and at the conclusion of the event, two $750 checks were awarded to the anglers who caught and turned in the most northern pike and/or the most smallmouth bass over the nine day tournament. Prior to the event, one northern pike and one smallmouth bass were caught, tagged and released with individually numbered internal tags by CPW biologists. One lucky angler caught the tagged smallmouth bass and received a $1,500 award per fish. Since no one caught the tagged northern pike, a second $1,500 prize was awarded via lottery.
Winners at Elkhead Reservoir were:
Additional prizes were also awarded daily for smallest and largest catch and largest number caught for both northern pike and smallmouth bass. In just the second year of the tournament, the number of registered participants grew by 275, and 776 more non-native fish were removed from Elkhead Reservoir than in 2016.
At the 3rd Annual Ridgway Smallmouth Bass Classic, 126 registered anglers fished at Ridgway Reservoir at Ridgway State Park over three weeks, and caught 2,339 smallmouth bass. Biologists estimate that close to 53 percent of smallmouth bass six inches and longer were removed from the reservoir during the tournament. The catch total this year more than doubled the 1,140 smallmouth bass removed in the 2016 tournament.
Five one-person pontoon boats were also awarded. The winners were:
To learn more about issues with non-native fish species, see the Smallmouth Bass at Ridgway Reservoir page.
Smallmouth bass and northern pike are not compatible with endangered fish recovery and conservation efforts in waters downstream of Ridgway and Elkhead reservoirs. Smallmouth bass and northern pike can escape from reservoirs and/or be moved illegally to waters where these species can predate upon native fishes and compete with natives for food and habitat. We ask anglers to catch and keep all smallmouth bass and northern pike that they catch from these reservoirs. Anglers are reminded that is illegal to move live fish from one water to another in western Colorado.
Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program fails to make sufficient progress at recovering the four endangered fish species (Colorado pikeminnow, bonytail, razorback sucker, and humpback chub), all water users on the West Slope will likely be required to consult with the federal government if they need to use water for irrigation, to fill a pond, or to supply drinking water.
Participation in these fishing tournaments can help assure a variety of future game fish opportunities in Elkhead and Ridgway reservoirs. For example, with the help of local anglers, CPW biologists stocked 120 adult largemouth bass on June 19, 2017 into Elkhead Reservoir. These bass averaged 22 inches in length, and on average weighed, almost 5 lbs. An additional 127,000 juvenile largemouth bass were also stocked by CPW earlier in the summer into Elkhead Reservoir, and there are plans for additional stockings in 2017 of juvenile largemouth bass, bluegill, and black crappie. These species are compatible with native fish recovery and conservation efforts.
CPW strives to provide the best fishing opportunities that are appropriate for each body of water in the state. Biologists must carefully consider a variety of factors when managing fisheries, including: impacts to native fishes, water quality, habitat availability, size of water to be stocked, how water will be used, forage fish availability, federal and state laws, etc. Please help CPW manage YOUR fisheries by working with our biologists and not against them by illegally stocking fish!
Illegal stocking of fish is a significant issue that affects all Colorado anglers. In western Colorado, not every body of water or waterway is suitable for every species of fish. CPW must remedy fisheries where illegal stocking has taken place. This means the agency must expend significant resources that otherwise could be used to improve angling opportunities elsewhere. For example, in the fall of 2013, CPW spent more than $100,000 to eliminate smallmouth bass and restore the renowned trout fishery at Miramonte Reservoir in San Miguel County.
If you have information about illegal stocking of fish, please
contact a CPW office immediately, or call
Operation Game Thief at 1-877-265-6648. Tips can be given anonymously and rewards are possible.