Once anglers read in Sunday’s Daily Sentinel that Colorado Parks and Wildlife is planning to poison the smallmouth bass infesting Miramonte Lake, they were quick to respond.
The sentiments were similar: Miramonte’s fast-growing trout are too special to put at risk and smallmouth bass simply aren’t welcome in one of western Colorado’s premier trout fisheries.
“I’d shoot the bastards myself,” said one angler, upset that a place where he and his son have forged some indelible memories of hard-fighting, thick-bodied trout faces a year or two of recovery.
Another angler repeated the refrain, saying, “I’ve spent many days there with my son catching those trout, and I don’t know if we’ve enjoyed many better times together.”
Miramonte Lake, the 450-acre centerpiece of the Dan Noble State Wildlife Area 17 miles south of Norwood, is easy to access, offers both boat and shoreline fishing and grows big trout real fast.
“We stock it with 3-inch fingerlings and a year or two later they’ve grown to quality fish,” said John Alves, Southwest Region aquatics biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. “That type of fishery is rare on the Western Slope.”
The treatment project, scheduled for late summer or early fall 2013, calls for drawing down the reservoir, applying the organic piscicide rotenone, and subsequently re-stocking the reservoir with fingerlings and a “couple of thousand” 9-10 inch trout in time for the ice-fishing season.
Robert Burritt of Redlands Mesa was pulling his flat-decked Bass Tracker onto Miramonte’s rocky shore Sunday afternoon when a curious visitor wandered up to ask about the fishing.
“I caught one trout and a bass, the first smallmouth bass I’ve ever seen,” said Burritt, who was getting in early (he said he prefers fishing at night) after sitting through the heavy storms sweeping the high country around Lone Cone, which at 12,613 feet attracts its share of lightning storms..
“I’ve fished this lake since it was built, back when I was working at the mill at Uravan, and it wasn’t unusual to catch 5- or 6-pound trout,” said Burritt, who spent 33 years at Uravan before that now-abandoned company town was dismantled. “It’s always grown big trout and a lot of them.”
He already knew about the plan to kill the unwanted bass and said he hoped it was successful.
A Parks and Wildlife survey this year estimated smallmouth bass make up 44 percent of the total catch, with most of the bass 6-7 inches long and none longer than 11.
“I didn’t know there were that many of them in here,” Burritt said, looking out over the lake’s choppy surface. “I hope they get them all; it doesn’t take but two to keep that population going.”
The prey base for the rainbow and brown trout and smallmouth bass are crayfish, which are numerous and large enough to attract their own anglers.
But there aren’t enough crayfish to support a two-tier fishery, said CPW fisheries researcher Dan Kowalski.
“If no reclamation project was completed there would likely be several years of decent bass fishing before it collapses,” Kowalski said. “We would be left with a mediocre bass fishery, a much-lower quality trout fishery and lower-quality crayfish fishery.
“The bass fishery is not sustainable and would ruin a great trout (and) crayfish fishery.”
Alves said the project was two-fold: restore the trout fishery and protect threatened and endangered fish in the rivers downstream from the predatory bass.
“If we let the smallmouth go, we would have to change our management strategies and stock catchable (trout) and that’s not what people want,” he said.
Particularly the anglers who know what a rare jewel they have in Miramonte Lake.