Anglers will once again have the chance to earn cash prizes this winter while helping Colorado Parks and Wildlife achieve management goals of lake trout within Blue Mesa Reservoir.
The Blue Mesa Reservoir Lake Trout Tournament is scheduled to run Jan. 1 through April 30, 2024. The third edition of this tournament is sponsored by CPW in an effort to reduce the population of lake trout 24 inches in length and smaller. This is the first time CPW has held this tournament since 2021.
This harvest-incentive tournament will help aquatic biologists maintain adequate kokanee salmon fry survival by limiting predation from lake trout. Abundant kokanee are also key to maintaining excellent trophy lake trout growth and condition within the reservoir.
"Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking anglers to be our partners in helping to manage the renowned Blue Mesa Reservoir fishery," said Dan Brauch, aquatic biologist for CPW in Gunnison. "We know we can have an excellent kokanee fishery and a trophy lake trout fishery, but we need to continue our work for both species and we need the continued help of Colorado's anglers."
Anglers participating in the tournament must possess a valid Colorado fishing license and follow all Colorado boating and fishing regulations.
To participate, anglers who harvest a lake trout 24 inches or smaller can turn in the whole fish or the fish head and place them in a plastic bag provided at one of three boat ramps at the reservoir. Bags can be found at the Iola, Elk Creek and Lake Fork boat ramps. Heads may also be turned into CPW's offices in Gunnison (300 West New York Avenue, Gunnison, Colorado 81230, 970-641-7060) or Montrose (2300 South Townsend Ave, Montrose, Colorado 81401, 970-252-6000).
Previous tournaments were held in 2020 and 2021. In the most recent edition, 516 anglers participated and harvested 5,759 of the target-sized lake trout.
Cash prizes will be awarded in two categories at the conclusion of the tournament. Anglers who place in the top four of most fish turned in will earn a large portion of the total purse. First place will receive $3,000, second will earn $1,500, third place will take home $1,000 and fourth will claim $500.
In addition to those prizes, every angler will be entered in a raffle for each fish they turn in. A total of 20 winners will be randomly selected, and each will earn $200. All winners will be contacted by May 31, 2024.
Unchecked lake trout population growth caused significant declines in kokanee abundance in previous decades. The two previous tournaments were successful, and subsequent lake trout monitoring resulted in a recommendation to not hold tournaments in 2022 and 2023.
"Recent monitoring has documented an increase in numbers of small lake trout, so ongoing harvest of small lake trout is needed to maintain numbers at appropriate levels," Brauch said.
CPW research shows that smaller lake trout, those 24 inches and smaller, consume the most kokanee. Consequently, the tournament is focused on removing those fish.
Though recent drought conditions have led to reduced kokanee survival, it is expected that improved reservoir conditions – along with maintenance of small lake trout abundance at desired levels – will allow recovery of kokanee populations.
Maintaining abundant kokanee supports quality-fishing opportunities for kokanee and provides a source of kokanee eggs for restocking needs at up to 25 waters in Colorado. Abundant kokanee are also essential for maintaining continued growth of trophy lake trout at Blue Mesa Reservoir.
"We appreciate angler participation in maintaining balance in the Blue Mesa fishery," Brauch said. "Working together, we will continue to provide quality opportunities for both kokanee and trophy lake trout."
For more information about fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir, including how to catch lake trout, research studies and management planning, go to: [log in for link]