I just ran across an article that Jenny Johnston wrote
for the Aspen Daily news about catching a monster goldfish in a lake near Basalt. But this isn’t just a grip-n-grin piece; it touches on something that has come up in nearly all of my discussions with DOW aquatic biologists.
Which of us haven’t been to a lake or stream and deviously thought to ourselves or out loud, “man this would be a great place to have _________” (insert fish species of choice.)
I recall a story in one of the national muskie fishing publications that features a fictional work on its back page, where a man describes his efforts to bring pure muskie to Oregon. In a clandestine solo mission, he manages to obtain a truck worthy of transporting fish, drives across country several times, and in the blanket of darkness during the middle of the night he secretly dumps the non-natives into several of his favorite lakes. However he got sloppy on his last lake and got caught, and was put in jail.
I was captured by this tall tale because it was so real. It seemed real, probably because it’s crossed my own mind before. However, like most of us, I am not one to act out on a thought like this. But what is real, there are those that do.
Almost every aquatic biologist across the state is dealing with some sort of illegal fish planting at some level. Whether it be the native greenback cutthroat dealings on the west slope, the pike proliferation in well known trout lakes, the exotic snakehead fish from China, the introduction of crappie in Horsetooth, or as in this story the goldfish from little Johnny’s aquarium, the people who manage our lakes and rivers are in a battle every year with these delicate and intricate ecosystems being invaded by species out of their control.
In her article titled "Leave your goldfish at home, they don't belong in the wild
", Johnston writes “It is illegal, and for good reason, in Colorado to transplant or introduce exotic species. The fines for these bait bucket offenders ranges from $250 to $1,000 but the real costs fall upon the sportsmen who pay for the damage by having to forfeit fishing opportunities and who ultimately have to pay for the restoration of the areas through the use of sportsman's dollars from the sale of licenses and other hunting and fishing related expenses.”
So there it is in a nutshell. Carry out your dreams and you’ll end up paying one way or another. So the (largely appreciated) crappie might not be rotenoned out of Horsetooth, but many lakes have undergone chemical and otherwise drastic “renovations” in an attempt to restore a fishery. Whether someone has innocently dumped their bait bucket after a slow fishing trip or rented a fish-hauling truck in the middle of the night, a body of water is a delicate ecosystem that can change overnight, for better or for worse.
“I pay to fish in Colorado, and I want my favorite fish in this lake, so I’m going to get it” is probably the attitude of most people that are the most sincere about their thoughts of planting fish on their own. I just don’t think $30 or so a year gives anyone the right to get out their childhood “aquatic biology” set and go to work on the waters that we call our own but really are not – they are all of ours. OK factor in parks passes and call it $50 to $500 a year. Still this doesn’t give any of us the right. Perhaps we should pay thousands of dollars for a degree that would give us the opportunity to be employed by the DOW and make these decisions, but my guess is by then we would have a better understanding of the whole and we probably wouldn’t carry through with it.
So what can you do? You can write or talk with the biologists and other officials with the state. And you can join fishing organizations so that you create a bigger “voice.“ Yes it is a bureaucratic and “squeaky wheel” option, and there’s a lot of work involved, but it’s that way for a reason, and it’s the right way.
See our listing of fishing clubs
and join up with them. They do a lot not only to educate and join fishermen of like interests, but they are actively involved with the official plans and improvements for our fisheries.
Be mindful when you’re out fishing because we have a huge impact on the waters we fish. Clean your boats and waders, pick up the hundreds of empty Powerbait jars littering the shoreline, stuff your trimmed fishing line in your pocket for proper disposal, and don’t dump fish where they shouldn’t be, no matter what size they are. We’ll all be better off, and my guess is that if we take better care of these public playgrounds, everyone will be happier, including officials.