Ridgway State Park has reduced the non-native and destructive smallmouth bass population by using a fishing tournament.
Angler participation in the eighth annual Ridgeway Smallmouth Bass Classic reduced the population by 70%, according to a Colorado Parks and Wildlife news release.
This year, 58 anglers threw bait in the water, up from 25 in 2021. Cash prizes were awarded for the best catches and for catching bass that were tagged.
For the fourth consecutive year, Ridgway’s Chase Nicholson was crowned the champion of the competition. He reeled in 3,036 smallmouth bass to win $3,000. He also turned in seven tagged fish and was awarded an additional $1,600.
Second place went to Chris Cady of Delta, who caught 1,005 fish, plus three tagged, enough to win $2,700. Weldon Flowers caught 643 fish to take third place and $600.
The tournament ran July 16 through Sept. 3 and resulted in the removal of 5,569 smallmouth bass, a new record for the tournament, CPW stated.
According to CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio, the adult population of fish 6 inches and larger was reduced from an estimated 1,302 to 274. Additionally, more than 4,500 smallmouth bass smaller than 6 inches in length were turned in this year.
“The tournament continues to meet our goals of suppressing the population,” Gardunio said. “We really want to thank all of the anglers who participated as well as the Ridgway State Park and CPW staff that helped make the tournament a success.”
Smallmouth bass were introduced illegally to the reservoir more than a decade ago, CPW stated in the news release.
The predator fish survives in western Colorado, including the Uncompahgre River which flows from the reservoir.
“There is a risk of smallmouth bass escaping from the reservoir into the river where they could reproduce and consume native fish species that are found no where else in the world,” the news release states. “Smallmouth bass have escaped other impoundments in Western Colorado and are adversely affecting populations of native fish in several rivers.”
There are no bag or possession limits on smallmouth bass at Ridgway Reservoir. CPW encourages anglers who catch smallmouth bass to harvest the fish year-round.
A fish screen has been installed on the outlet of the dam through a partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. The screen was installed to prevent bass from going over the dam and into the river and will open the door to manage for a more diverse sport fishery at Ridgway Reservoir.
CPW said the challenge for Ridgway Reservoir and other waterways is that anglers are looking for quality angling opportunities for sport fish like smallmouth bass that conflict with CPW’s mission of conserving native fish and wildlife.
Smallmouth bass aggressively prey on the young of native fish and other sport fish.
CPW wants to pursue a new management plan that will allow the stocking of sterile walleye with the goal of creating a qualify walleye fishery that is unique to this part of Colorado.