Hayden Colorado Division of Wildlife fisheries biologist Bill Elmblad expressed misgivings Wednesday night about the numbers of smallmouth bass being transplanted from the Yampa River into nearby Elkhead Reservoir.
Speaking to a small group of people gathered at Carpenter Ranch near Hayden, Elmblad said 1,574 smallmouth were removed from a stretch of the Yampa flowing through Juniper Canyon west of Craig in 2004 and placed into Elkhead Reservoir. The transplants were part of a larger effort to protect endangered native species of fish in the Yampa. Elmblad supports the efforts to protect the nonnative species. However, he said he hopes the introduction of so many new predators doesn't upset the population balance for the black crappie and bluegill that are thriving in the reservoir.
"I'm not sure I want this many bass going into Elkhead," he said.
Elmblad had good news for anglers who enjoy catching fat crappie and bluegills in the reservoir. The typical black crappie in Elkhead is 8 to 9 inches long and in the highest percentile of weight ratios for this part of the state.
"They are robust," Elmblad said. He was just as impressed with the hefty 6-inch bluegills his survey revealed in Elkhead this year.
Division of Wildlife personnel met with the public Wednesday night to ask them for their reactions to the way the state's fisheries are being managed.
Elmblad is responsible for managing fisheries in Northwest Colorado roughly downstream from the confluence of Elkhead Creek and the Yampa. He is working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service on the efforts to protect endangered native species like the Colorado pike minnow. He thinks the last several years of drought have shifted the balance in favor of aggressive nonnative species such as the smallmouth bass.
"I think this series of drought years have caused the native fish to struggle and the smallmouth bass to flourish," Elmblad said.
Efforts on behalf of the pike minnow, bonytail and razorback suckers have resulted in many thousands of channel catfish being trapped out of the Yampa in Dinosaur National Monument and destroyed, Elmblad said. In 2003, fisheries workers "lethally removed" 4,000 channel cats in Dinosaur and the number increased to 7,256 in 2004, he said.
Alex Medrano of Craig told Elmblad he thinks those efforts are too aggressive.
"You guys are killing all of these fish -- eventually, there won't be any fish to catch upstream," Medrano said.
Elmblad said DOW tries to respond to those concerns by transplanting northern pike in ponds in state wildlife areas in the Yampa Valley and transplanting the bass in to Elkhead.
"We need to do something about the nonnative fish competing with the native fish," he said. "There's a lot of concern about the Yampa River. Even if we were managing (to increase populations) of pike and bass, the forage base (of prey species) is really diminished in the Yampa."