Rangely-area northern pike, beware: There’s a bounty on your head.
The toothy, predacious fish hasn’t broken any laws on its own, but someone is thought to have done so by introducing the nonnative species into Kenney Reservoir on the White River.
It’s a fish that’s fun to catch and great to eat, said Colorado Parks and Wildlife spokesman Randy Hampton. But it also wreaks havoc on populations of rainbow trout and other species that make up the fishery at Kenney. Worse yet, northern pike pose a threat to endangered fish that are part of an intensive recovery program in the Upper Colorado River and its tributaries in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.
That’s the back story behind why CPW and the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District are working with partners to offer anglers a $20 reward through Nov. 30 for every northern pike caught and removed from Kenney Reservoir, the White River and other waters from approximately Stedman Mesa to the Utah border.
Hampton said the first time a biologist found a northern Pike in Kenney Reservoir was in 2018. The suspected illegal stocking — “fish don’t have legs,” Hampton notes — is a crime punishable by a fine of up to $5,000, a permanent loss of hunting and fishing privileges, and potential liability for costs of reclaiming a body of water, which can end up being hundreds of thousands of dollars.
Illegal stocking can tax CPW resources that the agency otherwise could be using for other purposes. It employs methods such as biological controls to target unwanted fish, but also fishing contests in multiple bodies of water in the state, such as Ridgway and Wolford reservoirs.
It has been forced to stop stocking rainbow trout at Kenney until it can deal with the pike problem.
Another concern is the threat pike pose to Colorado pikeminnow, one of four endangered fish that are the focus of the Upper Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program. The largest adult population of the Colorado pikeminnow is on the lower White River, which is designated critical habitat for the fish upstream and downstream of Kenney Reservoir. The lower 18 miles of the White River in Utah is designated critical habitat for the endangered razorback sucker.
The reward for northern pike was first offered last year, and just 19 fish were turned in. Hampton said northern pike can be harder to catch, favoring deep, cool waters farther from shore. Organizers hope for more participation this year, to get anglers more involved in the efforts to eradicate the northern pike around Rangely.
Participants should bring their freshly caught northern pike to the Rio Blanco Water Conservancy District office in Rangely from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Mondays through Thursdays and 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Fridays. The district will dispense reward money provided by CPW and the Colorado Water Conservation Board, and sourced from the state Species Conservation Trust Fund generated by severance tax dollars.
Partners in the effort also are planning a weekend fishing derby and expo June 5-7. It includes a $250 prize for whoever brings in the most smallmouth bass, another nonnative predator. With COVID-19 social-distancing measures being heeded, there will be interactive learning opportunities, a display of an electrofishing boat and an aquarium display including endangered fish.
Editor's note: This story has been corrected with regard to where participants should bring northern pike to claim their reward.