Steamboat Springs A program to improve native fish habitat by removing northern pike from the Yampa River has moved upstream to the Hayden area, but wildlife officials are wondering if the work will pay off.
This spring, Colorado Division of Wildlife officials removed about 200 pike from the Carpenter Ranch and the Yampa State Wildlife Area. The fish were released in fishing ponds in the wildlife area, Wildlife Manager Susan Werner said. The wildlife area and the Carpenter Ranch were selected for pike removal because spawning areas are in both spots, she explained.
The work is an extension of a project that started last year, when DOW officials removed 400 pike from the Yampa River between Juniper Springs and Dinosaur National Monument, west of Craig.
Northern pike are not native to the Yampa River. Their aggressive feeding habit of eating young fish has been identified by biologists and anglers as a reason for decreased numbers of brown trout, rainbow trout and the round-tail chub. DOW Senior Wildlife Biologist Dave Langlois suggested that pike infestations first came from Elkhead Reservoir many years ago. Later, the problem spread when someone introduced the fish into Stagecoach Reservoir, Langlois said.
The pike removal program is an attempt to try to control the fish's population, but its long-term effectiveness has yet to be demonstrated, Langlois said.
"Initially, it's good for the native fish," he said. However, the pike's ability to bounce back from population controls still must be determined. This factor will be a key element in determining the success of the estimated $95,000-a-year program.
"We got ourselves in the pike removal business and now we are wondering if we are getting anything out of it," Langlois said.
Now, he said, the DOW is wondering if the pike is even the most significant threat to native fish. Smallmouth bass, which have similar eating habits to pike, are estimated to have a larger population in the river than the pike.
"Perhaps we should be adding the bass to the list of fish we are removing," Langlois said. "There seems to be a lot of bass out there, compared to pike."