As if catching a fish wasn’t already one of the more exciting outdoor experiences, now state officials are baiting the hook with a $20 bill.
Through a partnership between Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) and the Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB), licensed anglers in the state need only to secure a northern pike at Green Mountain Reservoir to collect a couple sawbucks. No fish stories here — lucky individuals who feel the tug of the invasive species need only surrender the head at nearby Heeney Marina to collect. That means you still get to keep the meat.
“What I’m hoping is that people hear about this, and they give pike fishing a try,” said Jon Ewert, aquatic biologist for CPW. “We’d like the anglers to give it everything they’ve got to try to harvest as many as they can.”
The pike is a carnivorous fish that can live as long as seven years, typically growing to lengths of between 30-and-40 inches. Many who fish view it as a first-rate sporting species, but, in lakes where it’s viewed as a nuisance, it can gobble up more than its fair share of the resident populations. The issue has become so rampant that this year CPW is opting to abstain from supplying Green Mountain with trout — approximately 20,000-to-30,000 annually at a cost of upwards of $50,000 — for the first time in the reservoir’s history dating to its completion in 1943.
“Think of a lake as almost a giant aquarium,” said Ewert. “What we end up with is essentially a northern pike feedlot, where we’re stocking trout all throughout our system and the pike are eating them. They’re extremely voracious predators. It is an extremely inefficient and, frankly, irresponsible use of anglers’ license dollars.”
A single pike, he estimated, can equate to several hundred dollars of loss. And, after its illegal introduction into Green Mountain since at least 2012 when the breed was first discovered there, it’s begun reproducing to problematic levels.
Net surveys conducted by CPW at Green Mountain jumped from one or two pike the first three years of study, but exploded to 17 in 2015. One of the biggest concerns is that if a large number of the unwelcome guests make it further downstream into the Blue River and then eventually to the Colorado River — already a place where CPW sometimes receives reports of people catching pike — it could dramatically impact state efforts with four specific endangered native fish: the Colorado pikeminnow, humpack chub, razorback sucker and the bonytail.
“We don’t want to have that be a possibility at all,” explained Ewert. “It’s a long ways down, but we don’t want to roll the dice and take that chance. And, if you catch a pike in the Colorado River, please keep it. Do not under any circumstances return that pike to the Colorado River.”
Trophy-level pike fishing is already available at Williams Fork Reservoir, near the town of Parshall in Grand County, but individuals have now injected pike into both Green Mountain and the Wolford Mountain Reservoir north of Kremmling, also in Grand. So, to combat this unlawful act, CPW came up with the incentive program to offer money to anglers who help them purge these trout waterways of pike.
The Wolford initiative was launched in 2008 and resulted in a peak catch year of about 120 pike in 2011. Today, it’s difficult to catch one, though the $20 bounty carries on. The program will be in place at Green Mountain for no fewer than three fishing seasons, and the program will be honored there this year until the marina closes on Sept. 30.
Until then, June remains high time for pike fishing, and, so far, fishermen have turned over 12 this season, said Heeney Marina owner Jordan Miller. As summer temperatures rise in July and August, pike catch rates usually decline a bit but tend to increase against as the water cools back down in September and October.
Rather than rainbow, brown or native lake trout — all of which can still be had at Green Mountain, though to varying degrees because of the pike problem — this burly breed requires larger bait, lures and wire leaders because their sharp teeth can cut through standard fishing line. But with these handful of tips for anglers, CPW is hopeful that, like at Wolford before it, Green Mountain Reservoir can get back to its intended purpose.
“We want them in one place, and one place only,” said Ewert. “That’s the thing, you can never be sure that you get every fish out of the lake. But you can get them down to a level where the population isn’t overwhelming the lake, where they’re rare and hard to find. That’s kind of the goal.”