CPW confident it has plenty of warm-water sport fish for anglers
Colorado Parks and Wildlife
Thanks to a long-term commitment to spawning fish and aggressive trading of fish with other states, Colorado Parks and Wildlife aquatics officials say they have plenty of warm-water fish for anglers to pursue this summer.
There have been concerns expressed about warm-water fish populations in Colorado after CPW’s annual walleye spawn was aborted due to the need for social distancing in the face of the COVID-19 virus.
Each year, CPW aquatic biologists spend the month of March catching and spawning walleye to produce nearly 130 million walleye and saugeye eggs. Most of the fertilized eggs are stocked into Colorado’s waters as fry or fingerlings. The remaining eggs are traded to other states in exchange for other sportfish species.
The inability to spawn many walleye this year will indeed lead to the loss of a year class of walleye in most reservoirs that typically receive them – primarily on the Front Range and eastern plains. But anglers can still catch their limit of the popular warm-water sportfish at many Colorado reservoirs, thanks to aggressive trading by CPW hatchery staff with North Dakota.
“We will recieve enough fish from North Dakota to fully stock our walleye brood waters of Chatfield Reservoir, Cherry Creek Reservoir and Lake Pueblo State Park,” said Matt Nicholl, CPW aquatic section manager. “North Dakota is giving Colorado priority on walleye and saugeye because Colorado has provided them with good numbers of largemouth bass fry over the past few years.”
There are other factors that will keep walleye fishing productive in Colorado’s warm water reservoirs.
“Walleye, saugeye and wipers are fairly long-lived species,“ Nicholl said. “They live up to eight or nine years, even longer. So missing one year class is not going to collapse the fishery.”
Other warm-water fish – bass, perch, crappie, and sunfish species – naturally reproduce in Colorado’s waters so there should be no impact from the aborted spawning this spring. Colorado’s warm water fisheries feature many species popular with anglers including channel catfish, largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie, white crappie, bluegill, redear sunfish, green sunfish and hybrid sunfish.
Outside of the brood waters, no other waters in Colorado will receive walleye, saugeye or wiper this year. But Nicholl said the situation is not much different than other years when poor environmental conditions impact fish populations.
“This is not the first year that some reservoirs are missing year-classes of walleye, saugeye or wiper,” Nicholl said. “And there have been other years in which waters have not received full stocking requests.”
Hatchery production of wipers – a cross between a white bass and a striped bass – has been hit hardest. It has been a number of years since CPW has been as successful at producing wiper and it is rebuilding its striped bass brood stock following a series of weather-related fish kills. Thus, Colorado currently depends on out-of-state trades to receive wiper.
CPW’s hatchery section has been working to acquire wiper through trades with other states, but wild spawning operations in other states were shut down, as well. As a result, Colorado will not receive any wiper to stock in 2020.
CPW aquatic biologists closely track fish populations, habitat and angler behavior. They use the data as the basis of spawning and stocking decisions. That process will be followed this year with the impact of COVID-19 on Colorado fisheries getting close attention.
Meanwhile, anglers can do their part to ensure their own positive fishing experience into the future by closely following established size, bag and possession limits for all species. The statewide bag and possession limit for walleye, saugeye and sauger is five fish and 10 for white bass, striped bass and wiper.