Colorado Parks and Wildlife is warning that there will be limited fish available at the first Lake Nighthorse kokanee salmon giveaway of the year scheduled for this Friday.
The agency is canceling the last giveaway in Dolores that was scheduled for Nov. 9, but will still hold the event scheduled for this Thursday.
The fish, a landlocked variety of sockeye salmon that are stocked in lakes and reservoirs around the state, are manually spawned by CPW officials and volunteers and are handed out to members of the public for free.
The agency previously scheduled an unexpected giveaway in Dolores on Oct. 19.
“We had a great early run of kokanee in Dolores and a great first giveaway there in mid-October. But the run has really slowed down after that earlier run,” CPW spokesman John Livingston said in a text message Tuesday. “We spawned 23 females today after a similar spawn late last week, and we will have one more spawn Thursday before the giveaway. We will have a few hundred fish to giveaway at Dolores on Thursday. But that will be the end of giveaways there this year.”
At the time, it was unclear whether the early arrival of fish indicated an early run or an extended run. Now, it was clearly the former.
At Lake Nighthorse, southwest of Durango, Livingston said the few fish that have been caught so far are small.
“We will still do that giveaway Friday, but we don’t encourage folks to travel from outside Durango to receive Nighthorse fish Friday because there will only be a few small fish per person,” he said. “A lot of times we get more than 100 people at these giveaways, and if there are only 200 fish to giveaway, we’d feel bad if someone traveled from Pagosa or further to only get a couple fish.”
He said it was unclear why so few fish had returned to spawn this year.
One theory is that a severe drought in 2020 left the hatchery low on water, meaning that the fingerling kokanee were stocked in January, rather than April.
“We’ve had mostly what we’ve been calling ‘precocious males’ showing up so far. They seem like smaller 2-year-olds that aren’t sexually mature yet but have been showing up at the spawning dock,” Livingston said. “We may just be missing a year class of fish because of that. 2020 situation. But we will keep up spawning operations to see what fish do arrive.”
People who hope to receive fish typically begin lining up an hour before the giveaway begins. Participants of the giveaway must hold a valid Colorado fishing license and should bring a container. Youths up to age 4 may receive kokanee if accompanied by a license-holding adult.
Giveaways are also scheduled at Lake Nighthorse on Friday, as well as Nov. 10 and Nov. 17, at the boat ramp.
This story has been updated with the correct day of the first Lake Nighthorse kokanee giveaway. The event will be held this Friday.