Anglers from Steamboat and Craig convened Wednesday night at the Carpenter Ranch outside of Hayden, looking for answers regarding the future of the Yampa River.
Officials with the Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) hosted a roundtable discussion to address the issue of removing pike from the Yampa River in an effort to reestablish populations of native species such as the humpback sucker and the bonytail chub. The possible expansion of Elkhead Reservoir was also a topic of discussion.
Bill Elmblad, who organized the meeting on behalf of the DOW, said that hosting a discussion group would help to dispel some of the rumors that have been circulated throughout Steamboat Springs and Craig, as well as clear up remaining questions that anglers might still have regarding the pike removal efforts.
"One thing that we want to make abundantly clear is that we have not taken one smallmouth out of the Yampa as a result of this northern pike removal effort," Elmblad said. "We have heard all of the rumors that have been going around about us taking out pike and throwing them on the bank, to having smallmouth removed from the Yampa. It is important that you realize that neither of those things are true."
The northern pike that now inhabit the Yampa River were displaced there after originally being stocked into Elkhead Reservoir.
When water levels in the reservoir rose, fish were washed over the dam and into the river. Their presence is now threatening endangered aquatic species such as the pike minnow (previously known as the squawfish), humpback sucker and bonytail chub.
"We have been removing pike from high-concentration areas in the Yampa and transplanting them into the State Wildlife Ponds near Hayden," Elmblad said. "That has seemed to be a viable alternative for us, because it not only reduces their numbers in the Yampa, but gives the public the chance to catch a nice fish that they may not have before.
"From the people I've talked to, they are all happy to have somewhere to go where they can take the kids and maybe catch a really nice-sized fish."
The DOW has teamed with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to work on the removal effort for pike, however, the program is only in its second year, and the results of the study have yet to be seen, according to Elmblad.
"Are the number of pike in the river decreasing? I don't know," he said. "We will know more about that after this year's effort."
Fishermen who attended the meeting proposed various methods of helping the DOW in its removal efforts, including suggesting that a three-day pike tournament, followed by a fish fry, be held.
"I can do in a three-day event what you have been trying to do for the last two years," said Bill Chase of Steamboat Springs. "I think you're hurting your credibility by spending so much to get so little done. This is really getting ridiculous. What we need to do if we are going to take the pike out of the Yampa is take them out for good.
"Whenever you introduce a species to the area, you need to have an effective management plan to deal with it," he said. "We need to turn this issue into a money maker rather than a money loser.
"We could take the profits from the tournament, buy every disadvantaged child in the tri-county area a fishing pole, and pay out a 50 cent bounty for the pike that we catch. We do have options, and they need to be looked at."
The DOW has received permission from both Wyoming and Utah to begin removal of smallmouth bass from the Yampa so they can be stocked into Elkhead Reservoir, increasing the reservoir's gamefish populations.
"We have received permission to do that, but we don't have any plans in the immediate future to get that plan underway," he said. "What we do need to figure out, though, is how to reduce the number of predatory species in the Yampa so that younger fish can reproduce and spawn."
The possible expansion of Elkhead Reservoir was also addressed, and it was received with a mixed reaction from participants as to the means by which the expansion would take place.
According to Ray Tenney, of the Colorado Water River Restoration District, the reservoir would have to be drained for a minimum of three years for the expansion to be completed.
"We have looked at the possibility of draining the reservoir as the only means of completing the expansion project," he said. "We had pursued the idea of building a dam below the existing one so that we wouldn't have to drain the lake, but that is not feasible. Materials from the old dam, once it is being taken down, could wash into the new dam and create problems.
"In addition to that, there are a huge amount of public safety issues that would have to be addressed, so we want to make this as safe of a project as possible," he said. "Unfortunately, that would mean we would have to drain the lake to accomplish that."
Burt Clements, president of the local Bassmasters organization, agreed that an expansion would be beneficial to fishermen, but said draining the lake to accomplish it would not.
"Who's to say that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is going to want to put anything back in there?" he said. "Once they get a new, clean reservoir, they're not going to want to put smallmouth bass back in there. Not to mention, if they drain the reservoir, it's going to take three years to complete the dam and fill the lake, and where is that going to leave us retired guys to go fish?
"Is this going to mean that we are going to have to drive 200 miles to fish? I don't think that's right."
If the reservoir is expanded, a net would be placed across the spillway to reduce the number of predatory fish that would be washed over, and back into the Yampa River.
However, that also is a project that is in the preliminary stages.