Biologists for Colorado Parks and Wildlife say two fishing tournaments are showing big rewards when it comes to helping control non-native fish in two important bodies of water.

At Elkhead Reservoir east of Craig, anglers competed in the 2020 Elkhead Fishing Classic with the goal of targeting smallmouth bass and northern pike. While COVID-19 changed tournament timing and operations, it didn’t keep 219 anglers from removing 525 smallmouth bass and 606 northern pike. With those numbers biologists estimate that a quarter of the adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir was harvested during the tournament. Since the tournament began in 2017, adult smallmouth populations are down 61 percent (see Figure 1).

While pike numbers weren’t able to be estimated in 2020, CPW Area Aquatic Biologist Tory Eyre says anglers are making a difference with that species as well.
“With $8,000 dollars in prize money awarded at Elkhead in 2020, anglers were happy to take part,” Eyre said. “We’re also able to do a lot of education about why removing these species is so important. Many of the participants come back after the tournament and say they’re more likely to remove smallmouth bass and pike instead of returning them to the water.”

At Ridgway State Park in Ouray County, anglers took part in the 6th Annual Ridgway Smallmouth Bass Classic from July 1 through August 9, 2020. Anglers were awarded prizes for most smallmouth caught during the five week tournament. Prizes were also given through a raffle that gave one entry per smallmouth caught, so even anglers who only turned in a single fish had a chance to win up to $1,000. In the most smallmouth caught challenge, angler Chase Nicholson (pictured) won $5,000 for removing 1,043 smallmouth! The second place angler received $2,000 for turning in 546 smallmouth and third prize was $1,000 for 135 removed smallmouth.

Prior to the tournament CPW marked and released 118 smallmouth bass for a mark-recapture population estimate. As shown in Figure 2, the population of smallmouth bass in Ridgway Reservoir is down 74 percent since the peak in 2016.
The tournaments have been popular with the public and CPW intends to continue the tournaments into the future.