The Colorado Pikeminnow is a fish of legend. Once common in the great rivers of the desert southwest, this noble beast has become increasingly rare in recent years because of the dewatering, damming, and pernicious alteration of the Colorado River watershed. Historically, the Colorado Pikeminnow grew up to six feet long and attained weights upwards of 90 pounds. This species is an aggressive, predatory bruiser that was undoubtedly the most thrilling game fish ever to swim the great western rivers.
Other Names: Squawfish, Colorado Squawfish, Whitefish, Bigmouth Whitefish, White Salmon, Colorado River Salmon
Prior to European settlement, the Colorado Pikeminnow was common in the mainstream Colorado River and all of its major tributaries (including the Gunnison, White, Yampa, Dolores, San Juan, Uncompahgre, Animas, Verde, Salt, and Green rivers). Its range stretched from Baja California in Mexico to the foothills of the Wind River Range in Wyoming. This included portions of the US states of Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, California, and Wyoming. It was a key food source for the native peoples who originally populated the area, and was used and enjoyed by the settlers who followed, as well.
As more and more people flooded into the Western states, the need for a reliable source of water became acute. Much of this land is barren desert. The only way to grow crops on it is through irrigation. As more and more people crowded into this dry, barren land, the springs, seeps, creeks, and rivers could not support the population. Finally, in 1928, US president Calvin Coolidge authorized the building of a gigantic concrete dam. The project cost $700 million in modern-day dollars and took the lives of 154 workers. But Hoover Dam was only the first; it was followed up by the Imperial Dam, Parker Dam, and Davis Dam. Then, the dam-building moved to the upper river - where Glen Canyon dam cut the river in half. Flaming Gorge dam stoppered the Green River, largest tributary of the upper Colorado, and turned its waters cold, stable, and inhospitable to pikeminnows. More dams on the San Juan, Gila, Verde, and Salt river compounded the devastation. The Colorado Pikeminnow had nowhere to hide. In addition to the damage wrought by the dams, the native fishes of the Colorado were further devastated by intentional poisonings and non-native species introductions. It was put on the Endangered Species List in 1967.