Angler participation in the Eighth Annual Ridgway Smallmouth Bass Classic fishing tournament at Ridgway State Park helped Colorado Parks and Wildlife reduce the population of adult smallmouth bass in the reservoir by more than 70%.
This year’s incentive tournament saw 58 anglers participate, up from 25 in 2021. A cash prize purse was distributed among anglers who caught the most fish as well as prizes awarded to anglers who turned in any of the 25 tagged fish that were worth various cash prizes.
Chase Nicholson of Ridgway was crowned the champion for a fourth consecutive year, as he caught 3,036 smallmouth bass to win $3,000. He also turned in seven tagged fish worth an additional $1,600.
Second place went to Delta’s Chris Cady, who caught 1,005 fish. Three of those were tagged, giving him a grand total of $2,700. Weldon Flowers, who caught 643 fish and one tagged fish, took third place and earned a total of $600.
Youth fisherman Tobias Vigil turned in one of the most valuable tagged fish to earn $500.
The tournament, which ran from July 16 through Sept. 3, resulted in the removal of 5,569 smallmouth bass, a new record for the tournament. CPW aquatic biologist Eric Gardunio said the adult population of fish six inches and larger was reduced from an estimated 1,302 to 274.
“The tournament continues to meet our goals of suppressing the population,” Gardunio said. “We really want to thank all of the anglers who participated as well as the Ridgway State Park and CPW staff that helped make the tournament a success.”
Additionally, more than 4,500 smallmouth bass less than six inches in length were turned in this year.
“This should help to limit smallmouth bass recruitment to adult size classes in future years,” Gardunio said.
The purpose of the tournament is to protect native fish and water users downstream of Ridgway Reservoir. Smallmouth bass, introduced illegally to the reservoir more than a decade ago, are predator fish that can survive in western Colorado rivers, including the Uncompahgre River which flows from the reservoir. There is a risk of smallmouth bass escaping from the reservoir into the river where they could reproduce and consume native fish species that are found nowhere else in the world. Smallmouth bass have escaped other impoundments in western Colorado and are adversely affecting populations of native fish in several rivers.
“As a fly-fisherman who spends a lot of time fishing the Uncompahgre River downstream of the reservoir, I’m just happy I can help out with the efforts to remove smallmouth before they negatively impact the river fishery,” Nicholson said.
To further address the escapement issue, a fish screen has been installed on the outlet of the dam through a partnership with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program, Tri-County Water Conservancy District and Colorado Parks and Wildlife. This screen should prevent escapement over the dam and will open the door to manage for a more diverse sport fishery at Ridgway Reservoir.
“Colorado Parks and Wildlife has an interesting challenge at fisheries like Ridgway Reservoir,” Gardunio said. “We understand that western Colorado anglers are looking for unique and quality angling opportunities. Unfortunately, some of the species that anglers desire conflict with CPW’s mission of conserving native fish and wildlife.
“The screen on Ridgway Reservoir has allowed us the opportunity to bring in sport fish that are compatible with the native river fish. We are pursuing a new management plan that will allow us to stock sterile walleye with the goal of creating a quality walleye fishery that is unique to this part of Colorado.”
Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.