Craig angler hooks $1,500 prize in Elkhead fishing tournament | CraigDailyPress.com

Craig angler hooks $1,500 prize in Elkhead fishing tournament

Lauren Blair

Tom Bowser holds the unassuming, prize-winning smallmouth bass he caught at Elkhead Reservoir Sunday and a $1,500 check, issued to him Monday when it was discovered he’d caught the tagged fish. A lifelong fisherman and Craig resident, Bowser can be found most weekends or weekday evenings out on the reservoir with his fishing rod in hand.

The first of two grand-prize-winning fish was caught at Elkhead Reservoir Sunday afternoon by lifelong Craig resident and avid angler Tom Bowser.

Bowser discovered he'd caught the smallmouth bass with the winning tag Monday morning after checking in with Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff who are facilitating the Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic tournament. The prize is a $1,500 check.

"I couldn't believe it," Bowser said. "I was just out there to catch fish. I knew there were prizes for the smallest fish and I thought, well I always get small fish, maybe I can win one of those. But to catch the prize fish, that wasn't in my mind at all."

Bowser took in a total of 21 fish Saturday and Sunday over the course of two full days on the reservoir. But for the ardent fisherman, the tournament hardly represented a change of pace from his normal routine.

"I fish this lake in the summertime four to six days per week," Bowser said, who works as a meat cutter at Brothers Custom Processing. "I get off work at 5 p.m. a lot of times and head out fishing."

One $1,500 grand prize remains for a single, tagged northern pike, and more than a dozen prizes remain for tagged fish that went uncaught in the 2016 tournament. Two 2016 prizes have already been claimed, including a kayak.

Recommended Stories For You

Two $750 prizes will go to the anglers who each catch the most northern pike and the most smallmouth bass by the end of the tournament, which concludes Sunday. And CPW is giving away fishing rods, coolers and other daily prizes for the largest and smallest catches of each species each day.

The fee-free tournament had an exceptional turnout this weekend, with more than 200 anglers registered as of noon Monday.

"It's been a huge change from last year to this year," said CPW aquatic biologist Tory Eyre, noting that total participation last year was only about 50 anglers.

"There's been a lot more people coming from the Front Range," Eyre said. "It's kind of our way of letting the anglers manage the fish species for us."

Wildlife officials have been working to mitigate the impact of non-native smallmouthed bass and northern pike on four endangered fish species downriver in the Yampa. A net was installed at Elkhead last fall to keep non-native species from entering the river, but the tournament is another method by which CPW seeks to manage and track their populations in the reservoir.