Really big fish at Harvey Gap Reservoir
Special to the Citizen Telegram
If you want to catch a really big fish and have a real fish story to tell, head to Harvey Gap Reservoir north of Silt.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocked tiger muskie, a large, powerful sport fish, at Harvey Gap on Thursday, May 16, providing west slope anglers with a unique fishing opportunity. Nearly 150 of the species – the sterile, hybrid offspring of northern pike and muskie – were released, and any angler up to the challenge can try to catch the elusive species immediately.
Because the tiger muskie is sterile, all of its energy goes toward growth. Many fish exceed 30 pounds and some reach up to 50 inches in length. Its large size and elusive nature will provide anglers with an attractive alternative to trout fishing in Western Colorado.
“It’s certainly a test of angling skills to catch tiger muskie,” said Senior Aquatic Biologist Sherman Hebein.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife first brought tiger muskie to Harvey Gap in the late 1990s; however, the stocking effort failed. Most of those fish were less than 10 inches, and biologists believe all were lost to predators. This latest attempt introduced larger fish that can withstand pressure from the established northern pike population.
To protect the newly introduced species, the Colorado Parks and Wildlife commission recently passed an emergency regulation prohibiting spear fishing, bow fishing and the use of gigs to take northern pike at Harvey Gap. These methods of taking northern pike remain legal at other waters, including nearby Rifle Gap Reservoir. In addition, Colorado Parks and Wildlife regulations prohibit the possession of tiger muskie smaller than 36 inches in length.
“Tiger muskie can be easily confused with northern pike,” said aquatic biologist Lori Martin. “The new, emergency regulation will help prevent someone accidentally shooting or gigging the wrong species without the option of returning the fish to the water alive.”
Limon High School students raised the fish as part of an aquaculture class, which receives funding from Colorado Parks and Wildlife and other partners. As a culmination of the project, a contingent of students and their teacher, Cody Weber, traveled to Harvey Gap to personally release the fish into the reservoir.
“Through the class, our students learned about our natural resources, aquaculture, and life science,” said Weber. “They were involved in every aspect of rearing these fish and are proud to have contributed to the management of tiger muskie.”
Harvey Gap currently has a thriving population of illegally stocked northern pike. One benefit of introducing tiger muskie is that the larger fish will help keep pike populations under control, while offering an attractive angling alternative.
“This introduction will remain an experiment to evaluate the potential for tiger muskies to survive and prosper in a Western Slope reservoir,” added Hebein. “We request the public’s assistance in our evaluation of this introduction.”
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program has identified the voracious northern pike and other predators as obstacles to the recovery of four, endangered native fish: the Colorado pike minnow, razorback sucker, humpback chub and bonytail chub.
Because tiger muskie are sterile, predate on northern pike and there are no concerns with their escapement from Harvey Gap into endangered fish habitat in the Colorado River, wildlife biologists believe their introduction will have positive benefits for recovery efforts.
“We share common goals with our partners in the recovery program and the public should know we are following an approved lake management plan with this introduction,” added Hebein. “We are also responding to our sportsmen, who are looking for warm and cool water alternatives to trout and other cold-water species.”
In addition to the introduction of tiger muskie at Harvey Gap, Colorado Parks and Wildlife recently completed the installation of a fish screen across Rifle Creek below Rifle Gap Reservoir. The creek is a tributary of the Colorado River and the screen will prevent the escapement of northern pike and other predators into native fish habitat in the Colorado River, ultimately benefiting endangered fish recovery efforts and allowing the possible introduction of additional sterile, warm or cool water sport fish at Rifle Gap.
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