The 2020 Elkhead Reservoir (Moffat and Routt counties) Fishing Classic tournament was held June 27th through July 5th. This tournament targeted the harvest of smallmouth bass and northern pike. A total of 219 anglers removed 525 smallmouth bass and 606 northern pike, for a total of 1,131 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 25% of adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir were harvested during the tournament (Figure 1). Since 2017, the adult smallmouth bass population has declined by 61%. CPW suggests that angler harvest as a result of the fishing tournaments has contributed to this decrease in the smallmouth bass population over time. CPW is also tracking the northern pike population, but was unable to calculate a population estimate in 2020. Results from the adult (>12” in total length) northern pike population estimate conducted in 2019 are provided in Figure 2.
During the 2020 tournament, 20 northern pike and 20 smallmouth bass were tagged and released by CPW biologists immediately prior to the tournament with individually numbered 2020 passive integrated transponder (PIT) tags. Fish were checked for tags throughout the tournament at the CPW fish scanning station. If a 2020 tagged smallmouth bass and/or northern pike was caught during the tournament, the respective angler(s) received a cash award (check) of $150 per fish on the day the fish was caught. Five of the 20 tagged northern pike worth $150 were caught and five of the 20 tagged smallmouth bass worth $150 were caught. Additionally, $50 would have been awarded to any angler who caught a PIT tagged smallmouth bass or northern pike still at large from previous tournaments hosted from 2016-2019, but none of these fish were caught. All ten of the $50 awards and the 30 remaining $150 awards (a total of $5,000) were drawn for and provided to tournament anglers at the conclusion of the tournament. Further, two, $1,500 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
The 6th annual Ridgway Smallmouth Bass Classic was held at
Ridgway State Park from July 1 through August 9. Anglers were allowed to fish for smallmouth bass over the duration of the tournament and turned them in at a drop-box freezer at the Ridgway State Park boat ramp. There were three cash prizes for the three anglers who turned in the most fish. Additionally, anglers were awarded a virtual raffle ticket for each smallmouth bass turned in.
All told, 49 anglers participated in the tournament this year, and they removed 1,973 smallmouth bass. The top three anglers were Chase Nicholson (1,043, smallmouth removed), Lawrence Cieslewicz (546 removed) and Chris Cady (135 removed) who accounted for 87 percent of the smallmouth turned in. Chase won $5,000 for first place, Lawrence won $2,000 for second place, and Chris won $1,000 for third. Additionally, Steve Smyth won $1,000 for the raffle grand prize with ten other anglers winning $100 each in the raffle.
Prior to the tournament CPW marked and released adult 118 smallmouth bass for a mark-recapture population estimate. Of these, 73 were recaptured, resulting in a pre-tournament population estimate of 1840 adult smallmouth bass. The tournament removed an estimated 62 percent of the population, resulting in the lowest post-tournament population we have had at 628 adult smallmouth. This is down 74% from the highest population estimate we had in 2016 of 3874 adult smallmouth bass.
Figure 3: Estimated adult (>6” in total length) smallmouth bass population size in Ridgway Reservoir before and after the Ridgway Reservoir Smallmouth Bass Classic from 2015 through 2020. The black lines represent the 95% confidence intervals.
The tournament has been effective at reducing the number of smallmouth bass in the fishery. CPW hopes to install an escapement barrier around the spillway this winter that is the result of partnerships with the Bureau of Reclamation, Upper Colorado River Recovery Program and Tri-County Water. Between the barrier and the reduced population, there have been great strides in containing this illegal introduction. The plan is to continue running tournaments to further reduce the population and maintain public engagement.
Smallmouth bass and northern pike are not compatible with endangered fish recovery and conservation efforts in waters downstream of Ridgway (smallmouth bass only) 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. CPW requests that anglers 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 has stocked: over 86,000 juvenile black crappie, almost 200,000 juvenile bluegill, over 1,000,0000 juvenile largemouth bass, and over 1,000 adult largemouth bass in Elkhead Reservoir since 2016. 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.