Good news for Willard Bay anglers!
The Division of Wildlife Resources will most likely be stocking gizzard shad, until now a prohibited species in Utah, in Willard Bay later this spring.
The little shad are expected to multiply by the millions and provide forage (food) for walleye and catfish. If all goes as hoped, it might also be possible to stock an open water predator like white bass in Willard Bay in a few years.
If the shad take hold, we could be seeing better condition and bigger sized walleye and catfish in Willard Bay as early as this fall.
However, DWR officials are sternly warning anglers that the stocking of gizzard shad puts fishermen and women "on their honor." If any shad are illegally moved to any other water, the water will be immediately treated (poisoned) and Willard Bay will also be treated.
That's because while gizzard shad are expected to help Willard Bay a great deal, the little forage fish can severely damage other waters and especially hurt black bass fishing and endangered species. DWR fisheries chief Bruce Schmidt said it is imperative that anglers act responsibly and not move the gizzard shad or any other fish.
After a lot of study and internal review by both fisheries biologists and nongame biologists, DWR director Tim Provan is recommending to the Wildlife Board that the shad be stocked in Willard Bay. The action requires Wildlife Board approval because the shad are presently prohibited in Utah. While the Wildlife Board had not approved the action before the deadline for this issue of UTAH FISHING, it was expected to be approved shortly.
Nongame biologists have significant concerns about the shad because of the possible impact on threatened and endangered species should the shad be illegally moved to other waters like Utah Lake where endangered species like the June sucker exist.
Schmidt said the stocking will be considered an experimental action and studies will be done to see what effects it has. If everything works out properly, the shad could possibly be stocked in other waters like Utah Lake and Yuba Reservoir.
He said it is likely some June suckers will be put in Yuba with the shad (in large cages) to see what effect the shad have. Also, some predators like walleye or white bass might be put in cages with the June suckers and shad to see what happens.
"This a great opportunity to learn more about the June sucker," he said. It is the presence of the June sucker in Utah Lake that has prevented the DWR from stocking a forage fish there. The white bass in Utah Lake have become too abundant and are stunted. If it can be shown that stocking shad would take some of the predatory pressure off the June sucker, it might be possible to stock the shad in Utah Lake and improve catfish, walleye and white bass fishing.
Schmidt sounded a note of caution. If an irresponsible fisherman moves the shad to another water, it could easily mean that no forage fish will ever be stocked again in any Utah water. He hopes angler peer pressure will help prevent irresponsible actions.
He expressed appreciation to the DWR's nongame section for being willing to take a chance and allow the shad stocking.
"We know anglers would like to see these big waters like Utah Lake, Willard Bay, Yuba and Lake Powell turned around," Schmidt said. "We want to see that happen, too. But we have to have a little patience. We'll get a lot further if we work together instead of at cross purposes."
If, someone decides to push things ahead too rapidly and does some illegal stocking, it could ruin things for everyone, Schmidt said.
The procedure from here, Schmidt said, will be to immediately get a few shad from Nebraska, and check them for parasites and disease. If they pass those tests, as many as possible will be obtained this spring, anywhere from 10,000 to 50,000.
The shad, which are very fecund, spawn in early summer, so the newly stocked fish would spawn and immediately provide forage for walleye and catfish. An adult female shad can produce 350,000 to 400,000 eggs, so it doesn't take too many adult shad to populate a reservoir.
By this fall, anglers could see walleye and catfish in better shape and bigger size. By next year, walleye and catfish numbers could be increasing.
After studies at Willard Bay are completed, it will be determined whether gizzard shad will be appropriate for other waters. Schmidt said the shad will never be appropriate for any part of the Colorado River drainage. They could do serious damage to black bass fisheries and to the many threatened and endangered species in the Colorado drainage.