Saving bluegill

A Bluegill is shown at Steinaker Reservoir.

The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) announced recently that as of Oct. 14, 2019, and extending through Dec. 31, 2020, all blue gills caught in Pelican Lake and Steinaker Reservoir in northeastern Utah must be immediately released.

The emergency closure, that included an update to the 2019 Fishing Guide Book, was designed to protect the newly restocked blue gills in both impoundments, so they can go through another full reproductive cycle before anglers can keep their catches.

For those of you who don’t follow the happening in northeastern Utah, Steinaker Reservoir was drained in 2018 and the dam repaired. But, before it was drained, largemouth bass, blue gills and a few other species were either harvested by anglers or transplanted into other reservoirs nearby, thus the need to restock those and other species.

In the case of Pelican Lake, located around 25 miles southwest of Vernal, it was treated in Oct. 2018 with rotenone, a plant-based fish toxin that kills all fish species in a lake.

Steps have also been taken to keep carp out of the lake and efforts are being made to lessen the inflow of sediment, both moves share the ultimate goal of restoring Pelican Lake to its former clear, vibrant, and prolific self.

I have very little experience with Steinaker Reservoir beyond a half-dozen days on the reservoir hunting largemouth bass. However, it is a state park and is very popular with the local residents, and besides blue gills and largemouth bass, it has been a fine trout fishery.

Pelican Lake and I, on the other hand, have a long, delightful, 40-plus year history. Though I can’t recall the exact year, my wife, Jeri and I spent a couple of days fishing Pelican in the spring of either 1977 or 1978. We stayed at the Bottle Hollow Resort and drove the additional 20 miles or so to the lake to fish.

Back then, I was just learning to fish for largemouth bass, didn’t have a boat, and truthfully, needed to take home some fish to eat. So, we took a cooler, some waders, and a spinning outfit and some bass tackle that included a handful of green, four-inch worms and some bullet weight, and gave it a shot.

The water in the lake was so clear I could literally see every single bass before I caught it. Perhaps that’s why I so dearly love sight-fishing for fish to this day. We had the time of our lives on Pelican Lake and have fished it in all four seasons since, especially after I purchased my first bass boat.

Over the years, the largemouth bass grew and the slab blue gills drew more anglers that even the bass. But, as with most lakes and reservoirs, challenges including but not limited to drought, carp invasions, and increased sediment deposits compounded by murkier water, and deteriorating launch facilities made it more difficult for many anglers to find and catch fish.

Now, with the restoration plans in progress, the UDWR doesn’t want to jeopardize any of its plans by allowing anglers to prematurely begin to harvest blue gills before their populations are stable enough to absorb the loss of fish to a dinner plate.

The most exciting aspect of restoring Pelican Lake is the potential to allow it to once again grow huge blue gills. Though I targeted bass most of the time, the blue gills drew visitors from all over Utah and parts of Colorado because they were not only fun and easy to catch but they were spectacular table fare.

As with so many other things in life, patience is a virtue, and with Pelican Lake and Steinaker Reservoir, patience is also a must. If we continue to fish these impoundments but remember to carefully release any blue gills we catch until 2021, we can right this ship and the bumps in the road will seem like a small price to pay for the restoration of two great fisheries.

Don Allphin can be reached at don@donallphin.com.