Breadcrumbs

(Editor's note: This article is dated but includes thoughtful info that is still relevant.)

Dear Editor:

Having just finished your May 5th issue, I feel that maybe I've found a vehicle to gain some answers I've had concerning management at Fish Lake.

Let me preface my questions first with a little history. Four or five years ago the DWR held a public meeting in Richfield seeking input on the future of lake trout fishing in Fish Lake. I cannot quote him directly, but the head of fisheries expressed the opinion that the DWR should not try to maintain the lake trout fishery because the big ones could only be caught by a few people, the ones that are up there all the time, that lake trout were not the "destination" fish of most of the lake's fishermen, and finally that the DWR didn't want to produce trophy fish that only an elite few could catch. These opinions were disputed by cabin owners, resort owners (who said that most people putting boats in the water hoped to catch a large lake trout), and by local fishermen who love to fish for "Mac." As so often goes with the DWR, the public input fell on deaf ears, a mere formality. They announced that the DWR would suspend planting lake trout in Fish Lake. However they wondered if those present would agree to the supended lake trout plantings if the DWR stopped "milking" the natural spawning lake trout at Twin Creeks. Those present said that would be fine (no more hatchery fish, but unmolested natural spawning). End of history.

Now for my questions, and I have a lot of them. Who is the head of southern Utah fisheries, and how can I contact him? Have you or any of your readers ever been apprised of this situation? Have plantings of hatchery lake trout actually stopped at Fish Lake? If so why has the DWR elected NOT to keep their end of the bargain? The meeting was in August, yet in November of that very year they were milking fish. Are there minutes available for the public from that meeting? If so would you publish them? I think many other readers would be interested.

Fish Lake is five miles long and a mile wide and over 100 feet ( That is a lot of water. Surely it can support the big fish. I've heard of anglers catching 18 pounders on night crawlers, flies, and even spinners cast for perch. The lake trout have been there for so long and done so well, why can't they continue?

So what would I like to accomplish? I hope that as they know what is going on and who to contact Fish Lake fishermen will express their concerns. And that if there is enough concern, the decisions and practices might be reconsidered.

Sincerely, Ron Anderson, Centerfield, Utah

Editor's response: Wow, you've packed a wallop into a little letter. Where do I begin?

First, Dale Hepworth is the DWR fisheries managerfor the Southern Region. His address: DWR Southern Region, 622 North Main Street, Cedar City, UT 84720.

Many public meetings have been held concerning Fish Lake over the past few years. The central theme has been the need to balance the lake trout population with the forage available in the lake. There have been programs proposed... And modified... And revised. Fisheries management is a dynamic process.

"Our absolute, overall intent is to maintain that trophy lake troutfishery," Dale said.

Several years ago biologists noticed evidence of natural reproduction by lake trout in the lake and determined that stocking may be unnecessary. It was proposed that stocking be discontinued, that the fish be allowed to reproduce naturally, and that the lake be monitored to determine if natural recruitment could maintain the population. So far things look positive.

"We have not stocked lake trout for several years," Dale said. "We have documented some natural reproduction. We know there is an excellent population of lake trout. We've still got a lot of small lake trout, and a fairly good number of those fish came from our last stocking. We've also got a healthy number of big fish. The fish grow so slowly, it takes a long time to measure the impact of changes."

Over the years, Fish Lake has supported a large number of small lake trout, but few of them ever make the change to a fish diet, and grow to become trophies. "There seems to be a real bottleneck at 18-20 inches," Dale said. "I'm certain we have a lot of fish that live to old age but never grow past 20 inches. We have a huge number of lake trout that never get onto a fish diet."

But he said samplings show a good population of 24-36 inch fish which have never been hooked, and a few even bigger.

Every fall, DWR biologists spend a few nights sampling and studying and milking lake trout at Fish Lake. "I'm positive we never said we would leave those fish absolutely alone," Hepworth said. "From the prospective of a professional biologist, it's absolutely silly to say what we are doing up there will hurt natural reproduction of lake trout in that lake. It's necessary, and it does not interfere with natural reproduction."

The DWR does take eggs from a few lake trout, primarily to produce splake. Many of the splake go back into Fish Lake, but some go into other waters. In the future, if it becomes necessary to again stock lake trout at Fish Lake, the eggs will probably be taken from Fish Lake, Hepworth said.

"It would be selfish to say that anything taken from Fish Lake should go back into Fish Lake," Dale said. The lake trout were originally brought in from another source. Now the lake produces a surplus, and can share a few eggs.

"Those fish live so long and grow so slowly, it does not take much reproduction to maintain the population."

Minutes are kept at formal DWR meetings, but they probably won't help your cause. People tend to hear what they want to hear; they often don't think the official minutes represent what they thought they heard.

The real problem at Fish Lake is how to get more fish to grow past the bottleneck at 18 inches. And that problem has been greatly complicated by the illegal introduction of yellow perch. The perch compete with rainbows, but are not a good forage for the lake trout.

"If people want something to worry about, tell them to worry about the forage problem, " Dale said.

Rainbow fishing at the lake has been very good the past couple years. A few years ago the rainbows were in decline, but the DWR changed the timing and size of stockedfish, and the lake has responded well.

Splake fishing continues to be very good.

Overall, Fish Lake is doing well.