Elkhead Reservoir (Moffat and Routt counties) Fishing Classic tournament was held June 18 through June 26. This tournament targeted the harvest of smallmouth bass and northern pike. A total of 132 anglers removed 583 smallmouth bass and 596 northern pike, for a total of 1,179 fish. Fish turned in by anglers were also used to estimate the population size of adult (>6” in total length) smallmouth bass in Elkhead Reservoir before and after the tournament. CPW biologists estimate that 26% of adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir were harvested during the tournament (Figure 1). Since 2017, the adult smallmouth bass population has declined by 64%.
CPW is also tracking the northern pike population and estimates that 14% of adult (≥12” in total length) northern pike in the reservoir were harvested during the tournament (Figure 2). Tournament anglers have harvested 2,329 northern pike from Elkhead Reservoir since 2019, but the population seems relatively unchanged from 2019-2022 (Figure 2). 2019 was the first year that Colorado Parks and Wildlife biologists conducted a northern pike population estimate for Elkhead Reservoir, and an estimate was not conducted in 2020 due to COVID-19 agency restrictions. In an effort to increase competition with northern pike and to provide additional fishing opportunities in Elkhead Reservoir, CPW stocked 3000 tiger muskie with an average length of 7” in September of 2022.
One northern pike and one smallmouth bass were tagged and released by CPW biologists immediately prior to the 2022 tournament with individually numbered, internal passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. Fish were checked for tags throughout the tournament at the CPW fish scanning station. If a 2022 tagged smallmouth bass and/or northern pike was caught during the tournament, the respective angler(s) received a cash award (check) of $1,500 per fish on the day the fish was caught. The 2022 tagged northern pike was caught on the first day of the tournament. The 2022 smallmouth bass was not captured during the tournament. Therefore, one lucky angler was awarded the $1,500 cash prizes through a drawing at the end of the tournament. Further, two $750 checks were awarded to the two anglers that caught and turned in the most northern pike and the most smallmouth bass across the nine-day tournament.
For more information regarding the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic, please contact Area Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre at 970-878-6074 or via email at
Figure 1: Estimated adult (≥6” in total length) smallmouth bass population size in Elkhead Reservoir before and after the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic from 2017 through 2022. The black lines represent the 95% confidence intervals.
Figure 2: Estimated adult (≥12” in total length) northern pike population size in Elkhead Reservoir before and after the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic from 2019 through 2022. The black lines represent the 95% confidence intervals.
Ridgway State Park tournament was a success with 57 anglers removing a total of 5569 smallmouth bass. This removal was driven by the top three anglers; Chase Nicholson, Chris Cady and Weldon Flowers who removed 3036, 1005 and 643 smallmouth each for first ($3,000), and second place ($1,500), and third place ($500), respectively.
In addition to these prizes, cash awards were given to anglers who caught any of the 25 uniquely tagged smallmouth bass released prior to the tournament. Chase Nicholson caught one fish worth $1,000 and six worth $100 each. Chris Cady caught one fish worth $1,000 and two worth $100. Tobias Vigil caught one fish worth $500 and Robert Gonzales and Weldon Flowers each caught one fish worth $100.Prior to the tournament Colorado Park and Wildlife marked and released 128 smallmouth bass adults (over 6" in length). Of these, 92 were returned by anglers, allowing us to generate the population estimate data below. The estimate indicates that this year's tournament reduced the adult population by 72% from 1302 to 274 individuals. The final population estimate indicates that we have reduced the adult population by over 90% from its high of nearly 3900 adult smallmouth bass in 2016. The majority of the bass in the 2022 tournament were under 6 inches in length supporting the conclusion that we are suppressing the adult population.Figure 3: The tournament is meeting its goal of reducing this illegally introduced population of smallmouth bass to limit their probability of moving downstream into critical endangered species habitat in the Gunnison River where they would be likely to do harm. To further this goal, an escapement barrier will be installed around the spillway that was completed last winter. This a collaborative effort with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the water users that will further isolate the population and allow more flexibility in the management of the sportfishery at Ridgway Reservoir.
If the 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.
Figure 4: Photo of CPW employees installing fish habitat structures at Elkhead Reservoir.
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. In the spring of 2021, CPW spent more than $35,000 to eradicate northern pike and restore the warmwater and seasonal rainbow trout fishery at Mack Mesa Reservoir in Mesa 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.