"I've been managing Boulder Mountain for 20 years," said Dale Hepworth, DWR Fisheries Manager for Utah's Southern Region. "I love that place. My intention is to preserve the sport fishing, and not harm it in any way.
"Intensive management is needed to maintain quality fishing. That's particularly true now, as the popularity of the area soars. Significant natural reproduction only takes place in a few waters — if the mountain was left to itself most of the fishing would disappear. The remaining fish would be mostly stunted brook trout.
The mountain offers a unique and interesting environment — it is one of the last great places on earth where trophy brookies can flourish, if managed properly. "We aren't going to change that," Hepworth said.
Much misinformation has circulated about the DWR's work on the mountain. There are stories that lake after lake is being poisoned and restocked with Colorado cutthroats or tiger trout. That's just not true.
Native Colorado cutthroat were discovered living in the high reaches of Boulder Creek, and that discovery has generated some attention. 'We have a legal obligation under the Endangered Species Act to protect these fish. If we don't, the federal government will step in," Hepworth said. If that happened it would have serious implications for sport fishing. Federal managers might well stop all stocking of non-native fish, and take other actions which would destroy fishing on the mountain.
In an effort to increase the range of the native fish, the DWR treated one mile of West Deer Creek, including several associated beaver-ponds. The beaver dams were breached during that process. The treatment of those ponds apparently gave rise to the story that lake after lake is being breached and poisoned. The plan to put Colorado cutts there fell through, and the stream will be stocked this year with Yellowstone cutts. There are already brookies in the drainage, and they will move into the area naturally.
Colorado cutthroats have been stocked into just one stream on Boulder Mountain, and one on Thousand Lake Mountain. Both streams were fishless before that introduction. No lakes have been poisoned in preparation to receive Colorado cutthroats.
There is no plan to treat lakes for that purpose. The DWR is looking for a brood lake for the Colorado cults, but has not yet decided which to use.
Studies have shown that many lakes produce better when managed with two species of fish. For years, Yellowstone cutthroats have been stocked into some waters on Boulder Mountain. As Colorado cutts become available they will probably be stocked in place of the Yellowstone fish.
"Colorado cutthroats rank as the most colorful of the cutthroat trout," Hepworth said. These beautiful fish should do well on the mountain their native habitat. "People will be excited when they catch one."
In an experimental program, the DWR put tiger trout into one lake on Boulder Mountain. There is no plan to put tigers into any other area water. Tigers are a cross between brown trout and brook trout. They were also put into Huntington Reservoir along the Skyline Drive, and have generated considerable interest there.
But the state record tiger came from the lake on Boulder Mountain. Utah Fishing & Outdoors has chosen not to reveal the name of that lake, because we fear it would be overrun by fishermen. The tigers are becoming popular. There are probably fish in both lakes that will break the current record.
In the past, Utah fisheries managers have used rotenone treatment as an effective tool to restore good fishing in some lakes. Over the course of time, biologists may recommend treatment of some Boulder Mountain lakes as part of the normal management plan. For example, brook trout have a tendency to stunt in some lakes — there are so many little fish that they overwhelm the food supply and never grow big. When fish in a lake become seriously stunted, chemical treatment is perhaps the most effective way to restore good fishing.
Aging dams pose the real threat to the Boulder Mountain fishery, Hepworth said. During the past few years several dams have been deemed unsafe by the federal government. Some have been drained and others have been repaired. There is a real danger that a significant number could be judged unsafe in the near future. In many cases, the water companies which operate the dams have no funds for repairs.
Chris's Lake is a example of what can happen, Hepworth said. Chris's was a wonderful lake, offering good fishing, but the dam was unsafe and the government made the water users drain it. "We would love to rebuild Chris's Lake, but we don't own the water rights," Hepworth said.
The DWR has worked with water users to shore up many dams, and would love to participate in projects at other sites which are threatened. But, in most cases, the DWR must wait until it is invited before becoming involved.