Fish in the Yampa River are in for a shock this month.
Crews with the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program plan to get on the Yampa as soon as the river gets high enough to begin removing non-native fish.
The crews will count and cull Northern pike, small-mouth bass and channel catfish along the river from Steamboat Springs to Dinosaur National Monument. They catch the fish by electrifying the water, which temporarily stuns the fish, allowing them to be caught with nets.
"We are trying to establish a buffer zone between Hayden and Craig that will reduce the number of Northern pike from entering Yampa River critical habitat where they can threaten the survival of the endangered fishes," Recovery Program Director Robert Murth said.
"We also want to prevent Northern pike from moving into the Green River in Utah, where many of our native and endangered fish nursery habitats are located."
The Recovery Program aims to recover four species of endangered fish -- the humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker -- from four rivers -- the Colorado, Yampa, Green and Duschesne.
Northern pike aren't native to Colorado. Fish and Wildlife Service biologists say the presence of the predatory pike will hamper endangered-fish recovery efforts.
This is the third year crews have counted and culled non-native fish in the Yampa River.
Nick Kamzalow, owner of Outdoor Connections, a fishing store in Craig, confirmed that the Recovery Program has decreased the pike population here. He's not happy about it.
"I'm not against them (saving endangered fish), but I'm against them ruining a good fishery," Kamzalow said.
This year, the recovery program will have a greater effect on fisherman, he said, because the river won't have good sport fishing and Elkhead Reservoir will be closed while it is expanded. Anglers will have fewer local fishing options this summer.
Downstream from Craig, crews have caught, tagged and released pike in an effort to determine how
many pike are in the river. Results from the previous two years indicated that not many fish are moving downstream into critical habitat, Recovery Program Coordinator Pat Nelson said.
"We'll be taking another look. We hope to find it's not a problem," Nelson said.
To create a buffer zone between Hayden and Craig, crews will remove pike and relocate them in ponds. One pond is just west of Hayden, and another is at Loudy-Simpson Park.
From Craig to the border of Dinosaur National Monument, crews will cull pike and relocate them to Loudy-Simpson Park.
Crews don't find many pike inside the monument, Nelson said. The ones they do find will be euthanized.
Small-mouth bass and channel catfish are the target species in the monument. Because the area is so remote, the fish will be euthanized until the last day of culling, Nelson said. Then the crews will hand them off to the Colorado Division of Wildlife for relocation in Rio Blanco Reservoir.
Nelson said crews hope mountain runoff raises the river enough next week so that they can get on the river.
Rob Gebhart can be reached at 824-7031 or firstname.lastname@example.org.