Bass found in Yampa River to be euthanized

Officials: Fish will not be transferred


— Officials with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Denver announced last week that they will begin euthanizing nonnative smallmouth bass that they remove from the Yampa River in spring rather than transferring them to Elkhead Reservoir east of Craig.

Too many of the relocated bass are escaping over the dam spillway, they say, and returning to the Yampa, where they threaten endangered native fish including the Colorado pikeminnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail.

The Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has removed and relocated an estimated 6,000 bass as well as large numbers of northern pike from stretches of the Yampa downstream from Hayden since increasing those efforts in 2003, recovery program Nonnative Fish Coordinator Pat Martinez said in a news release.

The bass harm the recovery effort by competing for habitat, but they also are opportunistic predators that will eat whatever is available, including juvenile pikeminnows, for example. By doing so, the bass disrupt the entire food chain in the lower stretches of the Yampa, Martinez said.

The program previously has collaborated with water users, reservoir managers and the

Colorado Division of Wildlife to return the bass to the reservoir where they are a sought-after game fish.

Program Director Tom Chart said Friday that after expansion of the reservoir in 2008, it was hoped the new dimensions of the dam along with fish screens added to the spillways would greatly reduced the number of fish returning to the river. But it doesn’t seem to have worked, as fish go over the top of the dam when it spills water in high runoff years.

Individual bass are recognizable by tags attached to their bodies at the time they are captured and relocated to Elkhead.

“We know that 5 to 10 percent of the fish are turning up downstream, but that’s a lowball estimate,” Chart said. “There’s convincing evidence that some of the fish have escaped every year. Smallmouth bass are a fantastic sport fish, and we don’t like to kill these fish. We support fisheries that are compatible with what we’ve been doing to (restore populations of the endangered native fish), but this is too counterproductive.”

Escaped bass have been re-captured as far as 100 miles downstream from the confluence of Elkhead Creek and the Yampa.

DOW spokesman Randy Hampton said his agency continues to view the smallmouth as a valuable game fish for Colorado anglers but also recognizes that it must play a dual role as a state agency that provides angling opportunities for the license holders that fund its operations, as well as one that must play a role in the recovery of the endangered native fish.

“It’s tough. We have an obligation to the sportsmen who pay for our management,” Hampton said. “But part of adaptive management tells us we need to do what’s supported by science.”

Failure to restore the populations of the endangered native species could have broader implications for management of nonnative species on Colorado’s Western Slope, he added.

Chart said the recovery program has contracted fisheries biologists from Colorado State University to assess the effectiveness of euthanizing captured smallmouth in the effort to remove them from the Yampa. And Hampton said it’s his understanding that only after those results are known that the stakeholders will sit down to determine what further action might need to be taken.

Euthanizing fish

Recovery program biologists have routinely used an anesthetic solution in holding tanks to euthanize smallmouth smaller than 10 inches. Now, that practice will be applied to the larger fish that were formerly returned to Elkhead, Chart said.

Hampton said that northern pike removed from the Yampa in and downstream from Hay­den will continue to be relocated to the Yampa State Park Headquarters pond to provide angling opportunities for the public. The exceptions are pike that are removed from the river in mid-summer because they are more difficult to keep alive.

“The pond is easily accessible to anglers and we know that it will not reconnect to the river under any conditions,” Hampton said.

Martinez wrote in last week’s news release that the Yampa plays a critical role in the recovery of the four endangered fish species throughout the upper Colorado River Basin.

“This is primarily due to its relatively unaltered patterns of seasonal flows and habitat which are important to the fishes’ life cycle,” he said.

The Yampa also is a positive influence on the Green River, which flows unnaturally cold and clear at its confluence with the Yampa.

“As the largest tributary to the Green, the Yampa provides habitat and delivers flows and sediment downstream to the Green River, helping to maintain a river system with hundreds of miles of habitat consider vital to the recovery of the endangered fishes.”

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205 or email


Scott Berry 6 years ago

Boy O Boy! What is wrong with hitting his head on a rock and throwing him on the bank for critter food. This is a classic case of government over compensating.


seeuski 6 years ago

Please don't feed the critters. How cruel, I hit my head on a rock and it hurts.


Fred Duckels 6 years ago

Why do we have Bass and Pike in the river? My understanding is that they were planted in Elkhead and came over the spillway. This article is a PR effort to explain away unbelievable incompetence. If I am wrong would someone set me straight.


Scott Ford 6 years ago

Hi Yampa Valley Boy - Great story - it is my understanding that Elkhead Reservoir flowed over its spillway in 1984 following the record snow year of 1983/84. The flow over the spillway is how both small mouth and Northern Pike made their way into the Yampa River and have spent almost 3 decades spreading out. (I think the Northern Pike may have received some human help making it up stream into Lake Catamount and Stagecoach Reservoir.)

Within the local fly-fishing community there is a love-hate relationship with both of these finny critters. Are they fun to catch on a fly rod? Absolutely! Do they impact the trout fishery? Absolutely! Do they impact the endangered native species of the river? Absolutely!

There is almost as much discussion about what to do with a Northern Pike after being caught as there is with what to do about the daily summer inner-tube hatch. Many of my fellow fly-fishers release Northern Pike in the hopes of catching them again. I understand this practice.

I personally like to keep them. When I am fishing for Northern Pike I take along a gunnysack. They are a very tasty fish. It has taken me a lot of experimenting but I have learned to clean them quickly and easily. Getting rid of the dreaded "Y-Bones" is the trick and it is a bit tricky. The hammer handles (the name typically given to juvenile Northern Pike) - I skin, dice, and cold pickle.

Under the current DOW fishing regulations there is no limit on Northern Pike or Small Mouth Bass in the Yampa River.

Here is an idea - I think we can all agree that these toothy critters do not belong in the river. They have a host of negative impacts that far outweigh their recreational value. What if the DOW paid $1.00 for every Northern Pike head and $.50 for a small mouth bass tail? What a great summer job for a teen looking for summer "cash." Spend the summer fishing and making money? There is an entrepreneurial solution to this problem.


Bfife 6 years ago

Thank you Scott. In the mid 70's Chicago put a bounty on rats.My brothers made a killing that summer.We had a great time hunting and a cash flow.


tkdman 6 years ago

how about we just feed them to the Routt County Jail inmates. Two birds/one stone


mmjPatient22 6 years ago

There it is...we let the inmates fish all of the bass out of the river.

You keep/eat what you catch or you can sell it to the other inmates.

Hell, they could even open up a "prisoner's market" of sorts where they could pedal their fish. Maybe in the future the market could be expanded to include any excess produce that the prisoners will start raising in their new communal garden.

Solution found. Give a whole new meaning to 'down on the farm' and even call it something like "Early(release) (jail)Birds & The Worms."


bandmama 6 years ago

ok, really NOT trying to be a smart A&&, but why kill them? Why not a good old fish fry? Ahhh....could Lift Up use PROPERLY(may from a local butcher shop???) prepared fish for something? Seems like a hell of a waste. Is there something in the river that would prevent them being comsumed by humans? just wondering.....


mmjPatient22 6 years ago


A while back they tested a bunch of fish out of Colorado rivers and found out that they had both 'mommy' & 'daddy' parts, where there only should have been one or the other.

Not too sure if it's safe or not. But I do know that it doesn't make the fish sound very appetizing.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago


What if the DOW paid $1.00 for every Northern Pike head and $.50 for a small mouth bass tail?

Some scammer would figure out how to catch fish elsewhere where they are more populous and bring back the heads and tails.

Of greater concern to DOW would be the person that figures they can make money fishing and so stocks some obscure section of the Yampa with pike and bass so they have more fish to catch for money.

I think it would make more sense for DOW to ask fishermen to use Google Maps and mark where on the river where they caught what.


Scott Ford 6 years ago

Hi Scott W - You are right the scammers would figure way to subvert the system. I think we are just going to have to live with these toothy critters. It is a shame they made it into the river in the first place. Oh, well fun idea to ponder about regardless.


Scott Wedel 6 years ago

Scott F, With GPS and such, it is now possible for recreational fishermen to be a huge source of information to DOW regarding what is being found where. With enough data they could then track populations. And biological populations need a certain concentration for enough to mate up. So if DOW had good data on where there was concentrations then they could work towards eliminating the invasive fish.


Scott Ford 6 years ago

Yampavalleyboy - This video was so funny I am still laughing. Thanks for the link!!!

When I lived in Tennessee I met so many very nice folks just like Heather. Southern hospitality at its very best. I bet we could get Heather to show us how to cook Northern Pike and do it on TV 18.


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