CO Parks and Wildlife works to improve Rifle Gap fishery
To provide anglers with expanded opportunities for catching desirable sport fish, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is implementing a new Lake Management Plan at Rifle Gap Reservoir. Efforts include stocking thousands of black crappie and targeting fertile walleye for removal during the ongoing spawning season.
As approved by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and CPW’s other partners in the Upper Colorado River Recovery Program, the component of the Rifle Gap Lake Management Plan requiring the removal of fertile female walleye over the next three years also allows an opportunity for CPW to replace them with sterile walleye.
In addition, the plan allows for the stocking of species compatible with native fish recovery efforts, including black crappie, yellow perch and trout. Although not specifically targeted during this operation, plan stipulations include the removal of any smallmouth bass and northern pike inadvertently captured.
“Since 2015, we have released over 46,000 sterile walleye in addition to 12,000 black crappie fry and adults into the reservoir. It’s been more than 40 years since CPW last stocked any walleye into Rifle Gap Reservoir,” said Lori Martin, senior aquatic biologist for CPW Northwest Region. “Because of CPW’s successful containment of fish from Rifle Gap Reservoir and our approved Lake Management Plan, we can accomplish several important goals, namely providing anglers with opportunities to catch desired sport fish while at the same time conserving and recovering native fishes downstream.”
After years of research, recovery program officials have learned fertile populations of northern pike, smallmouth bass and walleye are significant impediments to the recovery of Western Colorado’s endangered native fishes, the Colorado pikeminnow, humpback chub, razorback sucker and bonytail.
Martin adds that it is imperative for CPW to continue fulfilling its role as a Recovery Program partner. She adds it is the agency’s goal to provide compatible, alternative species anglers desire; however, the process is much more efficient if anglers work in partnership with the agency.
“We provided anglers the opportunity to go over the Lake Management Plan with us during two public meetings last year,” she said. “It’s important to keep in mind that compromise is necessary to accomplish all of our goals. We look forward to everyone’s cooperation to help us make Rifle Gap Reservoir a great place to catch a variety of fish.”
Northwest Region Area Aquatic Biologist Ben Felt, who is heading the removal effort, said CPW is anticipating a fish fillet give-away once the work is complete.
“It depends on how many fish we collect, but if we can, our plan is to give the public fillets from the female walleye we gill net during this effort,” he said. “We’ll have more information regarding the fish give-away at the appropriate time.”
Colorado Parks and Wildlife advises the public to avoid the nets and the area near the dam during the removal effort. Disturbing the nets and associated equipment may result in citations and fines.
“We thank everyone for their cooperation and patience,” said Felt. “We should be done by late April, but until then we advise people to avoid this area within the reservoir.”
For more information or questions regarding this project, please contact CPW Area Aquatic Biologist Ben Felt at 970-255-6126.
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