Trace Walt: Water wolves of Northwest Colorado
May 5, 2017
Northern pike, sometimes referred to as water wolves, are an invasive species that were introduced to Colorado in the 1950s. In the 1970s, these fish were released into the Yampa River and eventually into all other Northwestern waters in Colorado.
They are an unwanted predator, illegally introduced, and will continue to impact the health and prosperity of the Elkhead Reservoir and Yampa River unless we take action as a community.
These predators can grow to over 3 feet long and weigh more than 30 pounds. Combine this with their ability to provide a great fight to fisherman, excellent taste when prepared properly and increasing availability to catch, the northern pike has become one of the most sought after fish for anglers across the United States.
Unfortunately, since this species is not particularly picky with its food, it has wreaked havoc on native fish species for decades. Here in the Yampa, many of our endangered fish have fallen victim to the northern pike, including the razorback sucker, bonytail chub, Colorado pikeminnow and humpback chub.
The northern pike was initially stocked by fishery managers into salmon reservoirs to provide sport fishing opportunities for anglers, and to control various fish prey such as catostomidae, or more commonly known as suckerfish. Populations of northern pike quickly became established in these recreational waters but rapidly got out of control.
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Escapement of northern pike from reservoirs into river systems, including illegal stocking of these predators in Western Colorado, has created habitat health concerns amongst fishing communities, conservationists and fishery managers alike.
Precautions have already been taken recently to contain these unwanted predators. At Elkhead Reservoir last year, a net was installed on the reservoir spillway to help prevent the escapement of northern pike and smallmouth bass into the Yampa River.
The Colorado River District described the net in this way: "The Elkhead Reservoir spillway barrier net is an important component of the recovery program plan directly benefiting the native fish species in the Yampa River, including the razorback sucker, Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub and bonytail by increasing survival rates."
So what can you and I do to help counter this unwanted predator? Simply fish more.
Northern pike are ambush predators that wait for the prime opportunity to catch their prey. For the best chance at catching these elusive fish, Fishing Tips Guru suggests, "Fish in weed beds and shallow areas. Use floating crank baits and spinners that ride just above the weed beds. Pike often times hide out in these areas and will attack your lure with a vengeance. If you find you're getting hooked up in the weeds more often than not use a weedless lure or a floating jointed Rapala."
Colorado Parks and Wildlife have taken further measures in controlling the northern pike population by legally allowing bowfishing and spearfishing for the taking of these species.
If you are an angler and you catch a northern pike, don't release it. These fish are excellent for cooking and taste great when prepared properly and cooked with the correct ingredients.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife encourages public participation in the containment of this invasive species. It is up to everyone involved in the fishing and water activity community to try and do their part in helping preserve the waters in our beloved corner of the state.