Fishers cast off for Elkhead Classic | CraigDailyPress.com

Fishers cast off for Elkhead Classic

Boaters hit the water Saturday for the opening day of Colorado Parks and Wildlife’s third annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic. The tournament for smallmouth bass and northern pike runs through July 1.

With anglers on the waters bright and early Saturday, the third annual Elkhead Reservoir Fishing Classic was off and running.

The Northwest Colorado tournament has grown greatly since its inception, as part of Colorado Parks and Wildlife'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, into which Elkhead empties.

A net on the spillway to curb the amount of non-native predator species smallmouth bass and northern pike has been one project, as well as the tactic of simply letting anglers remove them.

The turnout for 2016 saw 57 people competing in the event, harvesting 529 smallmouth and 53 pike. Last year, more than five times the amount of fishers hit the reservoir, 332 folks catching 963 smallmouth and 395 pike.

“Based off the harvest levels we had last year, we hope to keep continuing that,” said Lori Martin, senior aquatic biologist for CPW. “With almost 1,400 fish coming out last year, we’re hoping to have that or better.”

Martin added that the studying the population numbers is an ongoing process.

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Making an impact on the species numbers is part of it, but the tourney also provides an incentive to get on the water and partake in the sport, she said.

“It’s just a good way for people to get out there and enjoy themselves,” she said.

Despite a no-limit rule for smallmouth and pike during the event, restrictions do apply for other fish.

Tory Eyre, Martin’s fellow aquatic biologist, said it’s strictly catch and release for largemouth bass under 15 inches, with a limit of two that are larger than that.  A limit of 10 per person for crappie is also in effect.

Eyre said creating larger numbers of largemouth, crappie and bluegill is important, especially to demonstrate that other species can thrive for those concerned the tournament might devastate the overall fishing experience.

“The hope is they can fill that ecological niche as we’re getting the smallmouth and northern pike out of the system,” he said.

With $1,500 at stake for a tagged pike and a tagged smallmouth, fishermen and fisherwomen were out as early as possible.

Rifle’s Rich Webb had his boat in the water at 7 a.m. Six hours later, he was back on the shore with his grandfather for a break, both empty-handed.

“Not a damn thing,” he chuckled. “Last year we must have caught about 15 in this contest.”

Denver’s Judy and Tim Woodard were hunkered down at Elkhead before the contest began and plan to keep at it.

The two only reeled in a few crappie Saturday morning, and though they certainly won’t say no to hooking a big prize fish, rest and relaxation is their main goal.

“We come up here every year around this time, we hope to move out here some time,” Judy said.

Craig’s Linda Peters and her husband, Seth, likewise didn’t get any bass or pike, but being on a boat with grandson Breckin has been worthwhile.

“He loves it, and it’s great to spend time with him, a lot of fun,” she said. “I love the peace and quiet and tranquility. We’re blessed to have a nice lake this. There’s been a lot of boats out here, but everybody’s real polite.”

The Elkhead Classic runs through July 1 and will offer $9,000 in total prizes, including the tagged fish, largest and smallest and greatest amount caught.

For more information on contest rules, call Yampa River State Park at 970-276-2061 or visit http://cpw.state.co.us/tournament.