GUNNISON, Colo. – A six-month-long fishing tournament with $10,000 in prize money sponsored by Colorado Parks and Wildlife starts Feb. 1 at Blue Mesa Reservoir near Gunnison in western Colorado.
The tournament, which continues through July 31, is aimed at maintaining adequate kokanee fry survival by limiting predation from lake trout. Anglers are asked to target smaller-sized lake trout, those that are 24 inches in length or smaller.
“By sponsoring this tournament, Colorado Parks and Wildlife is asking anglers to be our partners in helping to manage the renowned Blue Mesa Reservoir fishery,” said Dan Brauch, aquatic biologist for CPW in Gunnison. “We know we can have an excellent kokanee fishery and a trophy lake trout fishery, but we need to continue our work for both species and we need the help of Colorado’s anglers.”
Here’s how the tournament works: Anglers who catch lake trout 24 inches or smaller will remove the heads and place them in a plastic bag provided at one of three boat ramps at the reservoir: Iola, Elk Creek and Lake Fork. Heads can also be turned in at CPW’s offices in Gunnison (300 W. New York Ave.) or Montrose (2300 S. Townsend Ave., U.S. Highway 550). There is no fee to participate in the tournament.
Cash prizes will be awarded in three categories at the conclusion of the tournament:
1) CPW has tagged 23 fish in the reservoir but anglers won’t know if they’ve caught one. CPW will scan the heads later to check for tags and those who caught them will receive $250 for each.
2) Anglers catching the most fish: 1st place, $1,000; 2nd place, $500; 3rd place, $250.
3) Anglers will be entered in a raffle for every lake trout head turned in. A total of 20 winners will be selected and each winner will receive $200.
Kokanee provide the greatest draw for overall catch and harvest while lake trout provide the greatest draw for their trophy potential. Lake trout require plentiful kokanee as prey to achieve trophy size.
Some lake trout that weigh over 50 pounds and 44 inches in length have been caught at Blue Mesa Reservoir.
A change in water management in the early 1990s at BMR resulted in improved conditions at lake trout spawning areas in the fall and now they reproduce naturally. As the number of lake trout grew, they feasted on kokanee which resulted in a significant population decline. Recently, through angler harvest and CPW’s lake trout suppression work, the number of predatory lake trout has been reduced and kokanee abundance has improved.
CPW research shows that smaller lake trout, those 24 inches and smaller, consume the most kokanee. Consequently, the lake trout harvest tournament is focused on removing fish of those sizes.
“Anglers harvest about 6,000 lake trout each year,” Brauch said. “But we need increased harvest of small lake trout to keep population growth in check and to reduce the need for additional lake trout suppression work by CPW.”
Maintaining abundant kokanee will support quality fishing opportunities for kokanee and a source of kokanee eggs for restocking needs at up to 25 waters in Colorado while allowing for continued growth of trophy lake trout.
There is no limit on the number of lake trout under 32 inches that can be caught in a day at BMR, but only one fish more than 32 inches may be kept.
“By utilizing anglers’ skills and expertise we’re confident that we can maintain balance of the BMR fishery,” Brauch said.
For more information about fishing at Blue Mesa Reservoir, including how to catch lake trout, research studies and management planning go to: https://cpw.state.co.us/learn/Pages/BlueMesaReservoirFisheryManagement.aspx.
You may also call the Gunnison wildlife office at: 970-641-7060.