Pike speak

Local anglers say the government is 'screwing up' the fishing environment with predatory removal program


When it comes to the nonnative fish recovery program the government is conducting in Northwest Colorado, Nick Kamzalow, seated in the back of his outdoor supply store in Craig, said, "I don't even want to talk about it."

But he did want to talk about it and he's not happy.

Kamzalow, who owns Outdoor Connections in Craig, pointed to pictures on the wall outside of his office. There is a picture of a man holding a 51-inch northern pike caught in the area and another picture of a boy next to a 21-pound pike.

The pictures, he said, illustrate the great fishing available in Northwest Colorado -- fishing he and many other local anglers believe the Fish and Wildlife Service is stealing away from them.

Kamzalow attended a public meeting last week addressing the removal of nonnative, predatory fish from the Yampa River.

"It really doesn't make sense," Kamzalow said of the program. "All they're doing is killing fish and it hurts the sportsmen."

Officials are set to start moving northern pike from the Yampa River into Elkhead Reservoir and local fishing ponds.

The purpose of the removal, officials have said, is to reduce the number of predatory fish in the river to a level that will enable endangered and other native fish to coexist and thrive in the Yampa River. Theses officials say they are trying to save species that include the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker.

"Our data suggests the abundant game fish like northern pike, smallmouth bass and channel catfish are eating most of the young fish produced each year," Colorado Division of Wildlife Native Fish Conservation Program Manager Tom Nesler said in a recent press release. "We think the reduction of large predators like northern pike from the river may improve survival and abundance of Colorado pikeminnow, in part by reducing competition for food."

But local fisherman Craig Conrad called the transfer of northern pike from the river to area ponds a death sentence for the large species of fish.

"A fish like that would die in a stock pond," he said while referring to a picture of himself holding a 47-inch, 25-pound northern pike caught while fishing last winter. "They don't kill the fish by putting them in these ponds, but they're sentencing them to death."

Conrad and Kamzalow are not the only concerned local fishermen. In a meeting last week to discuss the removal, an estimated 60 local anglers attended the meeting, many with concerns about the removal of northern pike and small mouth bass.

Many anglers spoke out but, looking back at the meeting, many believe their concerns were not heard.

"It almost made me sick to my stomach to be there," said local fisherman Brad King, who has fished the Yampa River since he was 5 years old. "It doesn't matter what we say. You can't fight the federal government."

Local fisherman Nick Rubley said fighting against the Endangered Species Act is like fighting against God -- it's impossible.

He said officials removing the fish are not listening to the real experts on the matter -- local fishermen.

"This is useless," he said of the removal. "These people have no clue."

Rubley said the fish that officials are trying to save were identified as endangered in 1973, and the nonnative species being removed were not introduced to the area until 1977.

The reason the fish are endangered is not because of predatory fish, he said.

The problem is in the amount of water in the river, meaning the answer is in the removal of dams and cutting down on irrigation. Something that won't likely happen, he said.

"You can't get this river back to the way it was 150 years ago," Rubley said.

Kamzalow agreed that low river flows were the problem.

"Fish numbers are down across the board," he said. "But it's because we've been in a drought for two years."

King said another reason the fish are endangered is they can't survive the cold waters in the area.

"A warm-water fish can't live in cold water and that's the reason numbers are going down," he said.

Conrad estimates that it costs $3,000 to go on a fishing trip in Canada to catch fish that are available in Northwest Colorado.

He said he has guided for out-of-state fishermen and said people travel to the area specifically to fish.

Word is not out yet about just how good the fishing is in the area, he said.

"The Yampa River is truly top-notch fishing," he said. "It could bring sportsmen from all over the world to the area just like elk hunting does in the fall."

Kamzalow has seen fishermen in his store who have traveled to Craig specifically to fish, and it's no mystery why they come.

"This is some of the best fishing in the United States," he said.

He said he posed a question to officials at the meeting last week regarding compensation -- not as a business owner but as a sportsman.

"I'm going to have to go to Canada now to fish northern pike when they used to be right here," he said.

Kamzalow said he is skeptical of the government's experiment.

"How do we know this study is going to be objective?" Kamzalow asked. "They've got their minds made up and they're going to do what they're going to do. All they're doing is using this as an experimental lab and looking at it from their own perspective."

As a fisherman who has grown to love what's available in the area, Conrad said he doesn't know what to do.

"I've lived here 20 years and I feel like I'm being robbed by thieves coming into my backyard," he said.

Kamzalow's outlook about the future of fishing in the area is grim.

"They're going to screw it up," he said. "That's all they're doing."

Josh Nichols can be reached at 824-7031 or jnichols@craigdailypress.com.

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