The 2021 Elkhead Reservoir (Moffat and Routt counties) Fishing Classic tournament was held June 19th through June 27th. This tournament targeted the harvest of smallmouth bass and northern pike. A total of 133 anglers removed 668 smallmouth bass and 708 northern pike, for a total of 1,376 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 30% of adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir were harvested during the tournament (Figure 1). Since 2017, the adult smallmouth bass population has declined by 66%. 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 1,733 northern pike from Elkhead Reservoir since 2019, but only a moderate reduction in the adult northern pike population was estimated from 2019-2021 (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.
One northern pike and one smallmouth bass were tagged and released by CPW biologists immediately prior to the 2021 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 2021 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. Anglers did not catch either of the fish worth $1,500 during the tournament. Therefore, two lucky anglers were 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 see contact Area Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre at 970-878-6074 or via email at email@example.com.
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 2021. 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 2021. The black lines represent the 95% confidence intervals.
Despite only having 25 anglers participate, the Ridgway State Park tournament was a success with a total of 1690 smallmouth bass removed. This removal was driven by two anglers; Chase Nicholson and Lawrence Cieslewicz removed 936 and 649 smallmouth each for first ($5,000) and second place ($3,000), respectively. These two have won first and second place three times in a row now, and are the key to success with the tournament.
Prior to the tournament we marked and released 113 SMB adults (over 6" in length). Of these 75 were returned by anglers, allowing us to generate the population estimate data below. Our estimate indicates that this year's tournament reduced the adult population by 66% from 1222 to 336 individuals. This final estimate indicates that we have reduced the population by over 90% from it's high of nearly 3900 adult smallmouth bass in 2016.
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, a collaborative effort with USFWS and the water users will be installing an escapement barrier around the spillway this winter that will further isolate this population. Thank you to the Area, Park and Aquatic staff that have been integral to the tournament success.
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.