I read with interest the letter in your last issue from Ron Anderson on management of lake trout at Fish Lake. He was under the impression that UDWR is phasing out the lake trout fishery. I have been closely involved in management of the lake and would like to respond.
About 5 years ago we became very concerned about the future of both lake trout and rainbow trout in Fish Lake. It was apparent that Utah chubs, the traditional forage for lake trout, had dramatically declined in abundance (due to predation by illegally-introduced yellow perch). Most stocked rainbows were ending up eaten by lake trout and few were being creeled by anglers. Intense competition for small Utah chubs between an abundant population of small lake trout and yellow perch was preventing most small lake trout from converting to a fish diet and growing beyond a size of 23 inches.
A strategy was developed to minimize the effects of the Utah chub shortage and maintain both the lake trout and rainbow trout fisheries. This plan included: (1) stocking larger rainbow trout to reduce predation on them by lake trout and (2) temporarily discontinuing stocking of lake trout to evaluate the extent of natural reproduction. While making those changes, we desired to continue with our successful splake stocking program (taking eggs from a small percentage of the spawning lake trout at Fish Lake to produce the splake). We also wanted to encourage anglers to harvest yellow perch.
There was no plan or intention to eliminate the lake trout fishery. Lake trout had been stocked for about 90 years without knowing whether stocking was necessary to maintain the population. Lake trout would be restocked if necessary.
The UDWR strategy was presented at several public meetings during 1993, including the one in Richfield that Mr. Anderson referred to. The public voted on the changes involved in the plan. The results, tabulated in the attached table, show that anglers who voiced their opinions largely supported the management plan.
Three years after implementing the changes, rainbow trout fishing is excellent. Stocking rainbow trout slightly larger than in the past (same 200,000-fish quota but from a different hatchery) is working well. Splake fishing has been good. Trophy lake trout are still being caught. There is still an abundance of small lake trout. We are developing a source of brood lake trout in our hatchery system from which we might take eggs in the future, but it takes about 6 years before fish are mature. I think it would be a mistake to ever completely stop netting of lake trout during the fall spawning season because it provides us with the best information we have on the abundance and size-structure of the population.
Contrary to what some people believe, when UDWR spawns lake trout at Fish Lake it does not prevent most fish in the lake from spawning on their own. Over the past few years we have looked at well over a thousand small lake trout to determine their origin. Only a handful of those fish had marks indicating they came from the hatchery. It is possible that few fish from the last groups stocked have been seen because of extremely slow growth, and that many of the fish we have observed are the result of unmarked groups stocked many years ago. For that reason, a decision on future stocking still needs to be made. This decision should be based on sound biology, not emotionalism.
The lake trout population at Fish Lake is an extremely valuable resource. The possibility of catching a trophy lake trout is an important aspect of the fishing experience. Additionally, UDWR depends on a continued lake trout population to ensure that statewide needs are met for stocking of hybrids of lake trout (splake, brookinaw, and brake trout). It would be crazy for us to attempt to do away with lake trout. I hope we can dispel that rumor.
We will continue to closely monitor fish populations in Fish Lake. Public input is strongly encouraged so that we can follow changes in angler success. Anyone should feel free to call me (801-586-2455) and discuss management of the lake.
Sincerely, Louis N. Berg, DWR Fisheries Biologist