Occasionally we get the privilege of doing something that is truly eye opening. Such was the case last Tuesday morning at Boyd. Ben Swigle, Colorado Parks and Wildlife Aquatic Biologist for Boyd (and other northern Front Range waters) had called me earlier to see if I’d be interested in helping pull the gill nets for this year’s fish survey at Boyd Reservoir to which I readily agreed.
I met Ben, Aimee Ryel, District Wildlife Officer, and Grant Brown, Boyd Park Senior Ranger around nine that morning at the boat ramp. We all donned either waders or rain gear before heading out, as Ben assured me that we’d get well slimed before the morning was done. He was right about that.
The process is fairly simple. We pulled up one of the buoys marking the nets that were laid out the day before. Grant and I handled pulling in the net, which has a top floating line, and a weighted secondary line. As the fish were brought on board, Aimee and Ben worked quickly to them free from the net, using, as needed, a tool that looked a bit like a short, bent, dulled ice pick. The fish were then placed in a water filled trough. Once the net was fully retrieved, Grant netted the fish from the trough and passed them to Ben who weighed and measured them. Aimee recorded the data. At that point I manned my camera and mostly tried to keep clear of the working folk. For more information on fish survey techniques, visit the CPW page on the subject.
Fishing Boyd frequently, I have always felt that it is an excellent fishery, in spite of the heavy fishing and recreational traffic. It’s no secret that Ben has been working hard to improve the walleye fishery, see the latest Fish Survey and Management Data sheet. What I wasn’t prepared for was not only the numbers, but the quality of walleye that showed in the nets. Legal walleye, over 15 inches, were common, fish over 20 inches were not rare, and there were several master angler sized fish, including a couple pushing 30 inches and over ten pounds.
While I expected to see plenty of game fish, I didn’t realize that Boyd also has a good population of white suckers, although if I’d studied the prior management data sheets earlier, I would have. And I wasn’t expecting to see any black bullhead. Although Ben did indicate they are fairly common in area waters. There were gizzard shad to 18 inches, channel catfish to 29 inches, bluegill, crappie, smallmouth (one 16 inch fish), largemouth, yellow perch, rainbow trout, and white bass (one just under 17 inches). After seeing what a net produced, I realized my best days fishing pale in comparison to what the nets caught.
It was good to see that most of the fish captured were in excellent health, with many downright chunky. Further, we saw many age classes, especially for the walleye, shad, and white bass, indicating that the walleye stocking is working and that there continues to be solid recruitment for the white bass and shad, the all-important prey base. Although, I note that in the last data sheet white bass have been stocked also. I had expected to see more yellow perch, but the abundant walleye maybe successfully foraging on them.
It should be noted that while the gill nets are hard on fish and some fish are killed, there is little wasted. Top end predators that can't be released, such as walleye are saved and sent to Colorado Health for mercury testing. Legal fish were also offered to anglers. It should be noted that CPW personal are not permitted to keep fish due to perceived conflicts of interest. I turned down the opportunity for a walleye, simply because I needed to get back to work and couldn't properly care for them.
The bottom-line, Boyd’s fishery looks to be surviving the drought in good shape. So barring another low water year and/or a winter-kill this winter (not likely unless we get a long period of heavy snow over the top of the ice), it looks like Boyd will continue to be an outstanding fishery, especially a walleye fisher, in the future.
If you ever get the opportunity to assist CPW with their sampling efforts, do so. I suspect it will be an eye opener for you also.