By Louis Berg, DWR special projects biologist
The DWR held several meetings with anglers during 1993 to discuss fisheries management at Fish Lake. We presented information regarding some serious problems with the rainbow trout and lake trout populations, made some recommendations, received public comments, and let the public vote on alternative recommendations.
The meetings consisted of a round table discussion in Richfield during May, followed by a series of monthly programs at the Fish Lake Lodge from June through September. Our goal was to decide on courses of action to help rainbow trout and lake trout, which have been traditional favorites at Fish Lake, and incorporate them into a management plan for implementation during 1994. It was agreed that any changes in management would be evaluated over a period of about five years to determine whether they were useful. The meetings were generally well attended, and there was excellent participation.
The purpose of this article is to report on our findings and let anglers know what changes in management are being planned. Suggestions for improving fishing were extremely varied, but the majority of anglers agreed with the following recommendations:
1. Increase the size of rainbow trout stocked. Rainbow trout harvests have been declining for several years. In 1991, a point was reached where only five percent of the number of fish stocked were being caught by anglers. Fishing success, nevertheless, appeared to improve during 1993. Many of the rainbows are being eaten by lake trout now that the Utah chub forage base has been reduced by illegally introduced yellow perch. We felt that stocking rainbow trout larger than the normal seven inches could improve fishing because larger fish usually have higher survival.
Predation by lake trout would be reduced by stocking larger fish, and fish stocked at 9-10 inches would be immediately catchable by anglers. If stocked smaller, lake trout would have access to them while they grow to catchable size. Ninety-five percent of the anglers voting about this recommendation agreed with the change. They accepted a change from stocking 200,000 7-inch rainbow trout to 100,000 9-inch rainbow trout.
Decision: Unfortunately, it will be impossible to increase stocking of larger rainbow trout under current budget and production constraints without significantly impacting several other very important programs.
Most rainbow trout stocked in Fish Lake will therefore remain at seven inches until we can afford to implement the new approach. Production will be shifted to Egan Hatchery, however, and that will allow more flexibility in production. We will be able to retain a total production of 200,000 rainbow trout, of which a portion will range up to nine inches in length. Stocking 200,000 7-9 inch trout should be a reasonable alternative to our preferred recommendation of 100,000 at nine inches.
2. Discontinue stocking lake trout. The trophy fishing for lake trout is threatened by a reduced forage base, slow fish growth and decreasing numbers of large fish. Small lake trout (pups) are numerous and slow to convert to a fish diet. It is desirable to maintain a balance between lake trout numbers and available forage. Most everyone wants Fish Lake to continue to produce trophy lake trout.
Lake trout are reproducing on their own in the lake and should be able to sustain themselves as they do at other locations in the West. Studies at Fish Lake since 1989 have shown that stocked lake trout, which were marked by fin-clipping, are not surviving and contributing to the sport fishery. Almost all of the lake trout are being produced through natural spawning in the lake. Stocking of lake trout would be resumed if numbers of small lake trout become inadequate to sustain the trophy lake trout fishery. Ninety-seven percent of anglers voting on the recommendation agreed with the change.
A recommendation to change fishing regulations for lake trout was made by several anglers. They felt a slot limit would increase harvest of small fish (reducing numbers as we want), protect intermediate sized fish, and allow a limited harvest of large individuals. Current regulations allow the harvest of two lake trout, only one of which can be longer than 20 inches. With a slot limit, the overall limit on lake trout would be increased so that more than two fish could be kept. No suggestion was made regarding what the size limits should be. We related that at Flaming Gorge slot limits have not solved predator-forage problems and that middle-size lake trout have had the greatest impact on the forage base, but 88% of the anglers voted that DWR should con sider this type of regulation.
Decision: Stocking of lake trout will be discontinued at least temporarily. If numbers of small lake trout do not remain at sufficient levels to sustain a trophy lake trout fishery, stocking will resume. Because there was no consensus on specific changes in regulations, there presently are no plans to make regulation changes. We feel that such changes should be based on anticipated benefits from such changes demonstrated by successes under similar situations.
3. Continue stocking splake. Splake (a hybrid between lake trout and brook trout) are a popular fish with many Fish Lake anglers. They are providing a higher percent return to anglers than rainbow trout. Splake are normally caught at a larger size than rainbows and have been a boon to winter fishing. During recent years they have added another trophy aspect to the lake as fish in the 5-10 pound range have become more numerous.
Unfortunately, stocking during the last few years has been reduced because lake trout eggs are needed to create splake, and we have not been able to consistently collect as many eggs as we wanted. The greatest amount of disagreement at the meetings centered around this recommendation, including the availability of eggs and taking eggs at Fish Lake. Nevertheless, 88% of the anglers voted to continue splake stocking.
Decision: We will attempt to increase stocking of splake fingerlings from 40,000 on alternate years to 60,000 annually. Eggs for producing these fish will be taken from lake trout at Fish Lake, for the time being, while we attempt to find other sources of eggs.
4. Encourage angler use of yellow perch. Yellow perch are a major reason for the current problems at Fish Lake. They have reduced the forage available for lake trout by preying on small Utah chubs, causing lake trout to consume more rainbows. We are not happy that perch are in Fish Lake, put there is no feasible way to eliminate them. Thus, we feel we should emphasize some of their positive qualities and encourage their use. Yellow perch are highly catchable and are excellent eating. All angler voted that we should encourage their use.
Decision: We will develop a brochure that provides anglers with information on how to catch and prepare yellow perch for eating. In addition, we will continue to promote their use in the news media.
This plan should continue to provide good angling at Fish Lake. It addresses the need to: (1) improve the rainbow fishery, (2) ensure the trophy lake trout remain available (3) maintain an adequate splake population, and (4) promote use of yellow perch. The rainbow trout fishery would probably benefit to greater extent if more, larger fish could be stocked. However, this is simply not practical under current DWR circumstances of reduced funding. Larger fish will continue be our goal as the budget situation improves and opportunities for increased fish production develop. Until then, the present plan offers the best chance for improving fishing at Fish Lake. It's effectiveness will be closely evaluated over the next few years.