Elk Head Disappoints Bass Anglers
by: Jeff Jones , California7/18/2012
The Denver Bassmasters held a club tournament at Elk Head last weekend. This was the first time the club had traveled to this lake and did so based on reports that fat smallmouth bass were to be found there. Congrats to DBM member Scott Dennis who won the event flipping soft-plastics and using crankbaits for a two day catch of 14 lb. 6.75 oz.
Maybe it was the weather fronts that kept rolling through the area, maybe it was the 71-degree water in July, maybe it was the lack of cover to hold fish, or maybe the smallmouth bass population is not as viable as claimed, but this event proved to be a bust for most of the anglers. Donít get me wrong, itís a nice little lake, but during two days of catching countless smallmouth bass I did not catch a single one over 12 ounces! Thatís right, I mean OUNCES; 20-30 little fish caught by me or my partner for the day and not a one over even one pound!!! One angler who found a three pound fish only had a five pound total with 4 more fish to go with it. The prevalence of small bass was reported by several other anglers, too. While a few did manage to catch a decent one, the big bass was 3 lb. 5 oz., and there were a couple more in the 2.5-3 pound range, others decided to forego the search for smallmouth and enjoy the chance to catch the numerous 25-inch plus pike that would explode on topwater baits. Most of the keeper size bass were largemouth, not smallmouth. Overall it seems there are several year-classes of fish missing and few of the legal keeper size. Not that we would keep any anyway!
So you know why we know how small these fish actually were, the Denver Bassmasters tournament are scale and card tournaments. We weight every fish on a Berkley scale, immediately release the bass, and write the weight down on a card. At the end of the day, the best five fish count for that dayís weight.
My day one partner Chad decided to try fishing deep and tied on a DD-22 crankbait. After half an hour of casting he finally got the hit he wanted and landed the largest pike of his life and the largest of the event (we had a side pot for biggest pike,) a 38-inch pictured below. There were several around 36 inches caught and many between 25 and 35 inches, including the 35 inch one caught by Jeremiah.
Elk Head, a 900 surface acre lake at 6,300 feet elevation, has been harboring smallmouth and pike for a lot of years and, despite a drawdown a few years ago for dam work these species have survived in numbers. Most recently the DOW has been shocking bass and pike to remove them from the Yampa River and placing them in Elk Head. During this event I caught uncounted numbers of little bass, many of which had a tag in them, which according to the Park Ranger, indicated that they had been removed from the Yampa.
The Elk Head info on this site suggests that the plan is to have a stocked trout fishery there and that pike are a nuisance. In my opinion, with all the quality trout water we already have in Colorado that we have a greater need for a quality bass and or pike fishery than another trout one. Of all the fishermen I witnessed on the lake they were either fishing for bass or pike and I heard no reports of even one trout being caught. I did catch one nice crappie.
Same with the Yampa; there are relatively few freestone rivers like the Yampa with a good smallmouth population in the entire US and efforts should be made to capitalize on this, not discourage or try to eliminate it by shocking and removing what should be a precious resource in the name of the almighty trout.
Trout are a money-making enterprise for the state of Colorado and anglers come from far and wide to fish for trout here, usually with a fly rod, and spend money in our state while doing so. But most of them are going to go to the Dream Stream, the Frying Pan, other well-known big trout waters or more remote high country locations for the added experience of the beautiful scenery before they are going to go to a place like Elk Head. I would like to see Elk Head become the quality bass and pike lake that it has the capability of being.
My day one partner Chad caught this 38 inch pike on a deep diving crankbait to win the big pike side pot.
DBM member Jeremiah had a great time catching big pike during the bass tournament!
Blog content © Jeff Jones
FishSeal, CO 7/18/2012 4:07:58 PM
I'm sorry, but it's not to protect the trout. There are very little trout in that stretch of the Yampa river.
It is to protect our last stretch of natural river and ecosystem of native fish. The native fish range is very limited. There are some large bass in Elkhead, I know so. But I wish they would stay there in the lake, but they aren't.
If you'd like to know more, I suggest you contact me, as your blog is going to explode.
ZZZ, CO 7/18/2012 4:08:54 PM
The smallies and pike aren't being removed from the Yampa in the name of the almighty trout, they are being removed because of the pikeminnow (formerly squawfish). The pikeminnows are an endangered species and are Federally protected. The tagged fish you caught are tagged to see if any of them are escaping from Elkhead and getting back into the river. It would be nice if Elkhead was managed for pike and smallies but it won't happen as long as there is a chance they will wind up in the river eating endangered fish.
Jeff Jones (Bassnfly), CA 7/18/2012 4:19:13 PM
I've heard this side, too. Is that the same squawfish they are trying to eliminate from the Dolores R? I know the topic will be controversial for some and I will stay in as long as it is a civil discussion. Frankly, I'm not willing to do away with a decent smallmouth fishery for an endangered bait fish, nor for the so-called "native range."
pikeNcolorado, CO 7/18/2012 4:26:08 PM
As of 2011, ALL Smallies that were captured in the Yampa River are not being released back into other waters especially Elkhead. You can do the math on what happens to them. They used to but not the case anymore. Also, the Pikeminnow is not the only fish they are protecting, the Yampa also has the Razorback and the Humpback, all of which are endangered. I would love to see the river take off again, but DOW is doing their part to protect the fish.
ps, fishseal, keep an eye out for an email from me.
FishSeal, CO 7/18/2012 4:29:03 PM
No, all pikeminnow found in the entire Colorado River system are protected. You're probably thinking of the Northern Squawfish in Oregon. There, they are prolific.
There are decent smallmouth bass fisheries all over Colorado and the US, but you can't find the native fish all over, just in this river basin. So, if you're willing to throw it away to have a decent bass fishery, for what you call a bait fish that can grow to be 5' long, then I feel sorry for you. I'd rather try to protect something is really unique that only grows there, have a chance to catch a 5' minnow, and be proud that Colorado cares for it's resources.
I'll continue to take fish from fisheries that can support it, were man made and are restricted. But I think our rivers, especially our Colorado river basin, should be protected as it holds some very special fish. Unique to the US and to the world. Much like the paddlefish, only 2 species in the world.
pikeNcolorado, CO 7/18/2012 4:30:16 PM
Ps, the Pikeminnows in the Yampa used to grow to 6 feet long. But im pretty sure that was hundreds or thousands of years ago. Thats hardly a baitfish.
pikeNcolorado, CO 7/18/2012 4:31:59 PM
Fishseal beat me to it. Hahaha
FishSeal, CO 7/18/2012 4:32:45 PM
pikeNcolorado, I'll watch for the communication.
Also, the smallies are being relocated again. They are just not allowed to release them into the Justice Center Ponds. These ponds are meant for kids and handicapped people to be able to catch and keep fish, but for their safety, especially the children, they no longer stock the ponds with the smallies and the level of mercury they contain.
Coyute, CO 7/18/2012 4:33:50 PM
People sure are passionate about their favorite species - I know I am! What amazes and baffles me is the misinformation that gets spread around by people that are supposedly "in the know."
ZZZ, CO 7/18/2012 4:40:02 PM
I agree that a good smallie and pike river shouldn't be ruined to save the native fish. I think that habitat restoration and stocking of the native fish would be a better way to go as well as probably being cheaper. This article http://www.denverpost.com/search/ci_4174390 says that $16.3 million was spent in 2006 alone. For a lot less money than that on a yearly basis they could fund a hatchery that specializes in native fish only and still have money left for habitat restoration. Best of both worlds, stock tons of native fish and restore what used to be a world class smallie and pike fishery.
Justin, CO 7/18/2012 4:56:32 PM
Nice blog, Jeff. I enjoyed the synopsis since I wasn't able to make it to the tournament. I was surprised to hear how small the fish were. Aside from the Pike, I bet Horsetooth was sounding pretty good to the guys after this tournament.
Fishful Thinker, CO 7/18/2012 6:12:08 PM
Don't blame the lake, blame the weather...or something else! Been there twice at two completely different times of year (Aug and Oct) and got high quality large and smallmouth bass both times. In fact, neither trip yielded many dinks at all with a few 10in smallies being our worst bass. I'm not saying any of this to say how good we (my camera guy fished with me one trip) are, I'm saying the lake has the fish the DBM guys wanted, and in good numbers based on both personal experience and talking with the managers who were sampling there on one of our visits. Apparently we timed our two trips well for bass, but the funny thing is that we got relatively few pike on either trip and I was trying for them some of the time. Based on our 2.5 days of fishing there, I would have predicted 12-14lbs per day to win. DBM should go back for a re-do, or perhaps I better quit while I'm ahead on that pond. Or maybe it just doesn't fish well under tournament-type pressure? I guess it's kinda like Aurora...everyone knows big smallies are in there in good numbers, but they never seem to show up on derby days! Oh, and for the record,I'd far prefer Elkhead stayed a bass/pike pond too. CL
pikeNcolorado, CO 7/18/2012 6:54:21 PM
Funny Mr Fishful Thinker chimed in.....I was thinking about his show and how well they did when they were at Elkhead when I was reading this article.
FishSeal, Sorry if I was mistaken....Here's where I got my info.
Either way, I'm glad to hear that they are doing something else with the fish.
foCOfishin, CO 7/18/2012 7:18:57 PM
Just a reminder its not just simply a removal effort - CPW does a mark/recapture study on the smallmouth/pike pop'n in the Yampa and then does a removal every year. This allows them to get a basic population estimate for each species, and I'd imagine they measure their success rates over time. Also its not just the federally endangered pikeminnow, we also have federally endangered razorback sucker, bonytail chub, and humpback chub that are supposed to be in this drainage. Not to forget... native roundtail chub are currently being displaced by non-native fish in the Yampa. I'd imagine its predatory smallmouth and pike that are to blame. The lower Yampa is very turbid and drains a lot of ag. land - theres no trout in there.
foCOfishin, CO 7/18/2012 7:38:22 PM
One more directed at ZZZ - It costs money to raise hatchery fish. Costs increases depending on stocking size. I'm sure the costs/benefits of stocking have been weighed by professionals and have been discussed at many meetings involving federal and state agencies. Predation depends on gape limitation - and a sized smallmouth or pike would probably be able to take year one or year two native fish. Imagine the prices to raise these natives in a hatchery for years at a time to proper size...and then imagine if that program wasn't successful and they were displaced or consumed by nonnatives. We're basically throwing our money at the mouths of non-native fish at that point. On a side note, its more than just the non-native fish that are problematic for restoring these native populations. High levels of flow and peak runoff timing plays a large role in reproduction for these fish...both of which have become evidently problematic in restoring these super cool natives. There's more to blame than just the non native fish.
FishSeal, CO 7/18/2012 9:10:38 PM
I wanted to quickly commend everyone that has responded. It has been civil and well thought out on a couple of sides. Much better than I had anticipated.
Again, thank you everyone for helping keep this civilized and mature.
Jeff Jones (Bassnfly), CA 7/19/2012 12:37:34 AM
I am also glad that the discussion has gone the way it has. That is the whole reason I brought it up in the first place: to get a discussion started on the cost/benefits/sacrifices of protecting endangered species vs. game fish, etc. There has been a lot of good information brought up already, some that I did not know, so I, too, am learning something. I am not strictly against the efforts to protect endangered species, but at the same time I think far too much money is spent on these efforts and in some cases at the sacrifice of what could be a prime game fishery.
Fishful Thinker, CO 7/19/2012 8:19:35 AM
FoCofishin, two of the smallies we caught had tags in them. I wasn't smart enough to get the number off them and get exact information on when/where they were tagged (duh!), but was told that they we tagged when caught in the river prior to release in the lake. Both were very large and healthy smallmouth, and one was on FTTV. CL
bluecollarguy, CO 7/19/2012 8:54:52 AM
I've fished this lake a few times - once with very good success and the second terrible due to runoff turbidity. I think the challenge with this lake is what happens during runoff and how it effects the fish as it can last quite awhile I think. Looking at the historical record on this lake, the DOW listed it as "high turbidity and siltation".
Fishful Thinker, CO 7/19/2012 10:21:32 PM
"high turbidity and siltation" sounds a lot more like a bass pond than trout lake...why fight it? Let's have us a bass and pike pond! CL
JKaboom, CO 7/20/2012 5:39:18 PM
Interesting blog and responses I love learning more about our fisheries. Thank you all :)
Americanwolf, CO 7/25/2012 7:33:51 AM
There is a good population of Bass in the lake. I know I have caught a tone of bass out of there. I think DOW/ State parks should invest in putting some cover in the lake. I.E. gravel and boulders. Its a tall order and alot of work but i think would vastley inprove this good fishery to a great one.
Jeff Jones (Bassnfly), CA 7/25/2012 9:13:20 AM
AmericanWolf: You are right about the cover. There is very little and the lake was also down at the time, so there was even less than usual. I agree that a habitat project is badly needed at the lake. The best cover now is the grass that is mostly in the upper end of the lake and only one bank that has much timber on it. There are scattered brush, but again, not much.