Anglers cast off for CPW’s Elkhead fishing tourney focusing on smallmouth bass, northern pike |

Anglers cast off for CPW’s Elkhead fishing tourney focusing on smallmouth bass, northern pike

Joe Mangiafico, a Colorado Parks and Wildlife fisheries technician, holds up freshly caught northern pike and smallmouth bass to be registered Saturday during the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic.
Andy Bockelman

Rod and reel in hand, fishermen of Northwest Colorado were on the water first thing this weekend to cast off for Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic.

The second annual angling tournament kicked off Saturday morning as sportsmen of all ages and experience levels brought out their boats in the hopes of hooking some profitable fish.

Multiple prizes are at stake in the tourney, which lasts through July 2, including $1,500 checks each for those who catch specially tagged smallmouth bass and northern pike.
Fishers were able to take all of the fish in question they could catch and haul.

After more than four hours Saturday, Steamboat Springs’ Don Edwards was ready to call it a day by late morning, picking up five smallmouth and three pike and plans to be back Sunday.

“This is the only lake I fish. I’m originally from Texas, so I’m a bass fisherman, and this is my deal,” he said.

In addition to the smallmouth, Edwards said he appreciated the addition of recently introduced largemouth bass — about 120 earlier this week, as well as 127,000 largemouth fry, combined with 680 largemouth last year — catching about seven throughout the day, though he didn’t keep them all.

Additional largemouth fingerlings, crappie and bluegill are scheduled to be placed in the reservoir later this year as part of the CPW’s efforts to work with Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery, which aims to boost numbers of humpback chub, bonytail, Colorado pikeminnow and razorback sucker in waters that include the Yampa River.

Elkhead’s link to the river had led CPW to multiple methods to control the move of smallmouth and northern pike, both non-native predators, into the river, including a net on the reservoir spillway leading to Elkhead Creek that came with a $1.2 million price tag.

Mike Porras, CPW public information officer, said the objective of the tournament was to provide a way for the avid users of the body of water to enjoy it in a way that also contributes to the goals that need to happen.

“One way or another, we need to reduce escapement as per the Recovery Program,” said Porras. “We’re not in it to just kill fish for no reason.”

Porras added that the Recovery Program acts as a “buffer” for the area, without which the US Fish and Wildlife Service’s Endangered Species Act would significantly impact water users in the area with increased scrutiny, including farmers and the City of Craig.

“Without that in place, it’s a situation that nobody wants,” he said.

The tournament has its critics, who point to the costly measures to adhere to guidelines that many in the region believe will ultimately ruin Elkhead altogether.

Others believe the attempt to limit numbers of northern pike and smallmouth bass is easier said than done.

“They’ll never get rid of them, but (the tournament) is better than what they were planning on doing,” Edwards said.

He noted he was not a fan of a 2014 proposal to use the chemical rotenone to kill all the fish in the reservoir and start a restocking process.

“The lake would be worthless for 10 years with that,” he said.

Edwards said the ongoing process is one he understands has many components, and as long as Elkhead stays viable, he supports CPW’s methods.

“They’re doing what they can, and I appreciate that,” he said.

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