My friend, Brent Daybell and I, fished a team bass tournament last Saturday on Flaming Gorge. We took third place, cashed a decent check and weighed just under 17 pounds with five beautiful smallmouth bass (see the photo), that were released unharmed back into the reservoir.
The purpose of this column is to chronicle the devastation to local economies, and express my distain for those that ignore the law and illegally stock species, and take more than the daily creel limit of fish.
This was the first bass tournament my friend and I had fished on Flaming Gorge in five years, due to the devastating effects the smallmouth bass population has suffered due to the illegal introduction of freshwater ling cod (burbot) into Flaming Gorge. It is believed that a few bucket biologists (anglers) stocked the fish in the Green River or the Black Smith’s Fork River just to add to the sportfish species in Flaming Gorge.
Without understanding how the species would mix with those already present, and essentially not caring about the outcome, ling cod have decimated the smallmouth bass population on the Wyoming side of the reservoir and have severely damaged the population below the canyon even on the Utah side.
This illegal and foolish act has cost literally hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to the already fragile economies of Manila, Dutch John, Green River, and Rock Springs to other locations due to the now unstable and declining bass fishery. Before the burbot were illegally stocked, Flaming Gorge had one of the finest smallmouth bass fisheries in the Western United States.
This is just one example among scores of such illegal stockings which have similar potential to destroy fisheries in Utah: white bass in Deer Creek, smallmouth bass in Strawberry, northern pike in Utah Lake, and walleyes in Red Fleet Reservoir.
I don’t care if anglers are frustrated with those charged with fisheries management or endangered species recovery, taking matters into their own hands, not understanding or caring about the consequences of their actions are criminal offenses, and they must cease. We simply can’t afford their thoughtless actions.
It costs millions of taxpayer dollars to poison and re-stock fisheries damaged by illegal stocking. And, in cases like Flaming Gorge and even Utah Lake that are too large to poison, the fisheries suffer, restoration of endangered species takes longer, and we, the taxpayers continue to be stuck with the bills.
Daily Creel Limits
Strawberry Reservoir continues to be a fishery where more than a few frustrated anglers choose to consistently break the law rather than learn to catch the right species in the correct numbers and sizes.
I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard anglers boast of how they kept slot cutthroats (fish between 15 and 22 inches in length) and didn’t get caught because they cleaned and cooked them in their boats before they came back to the dock. Or, they hide the extra fish or wait until dark to leave the reservoir.
Regardless of the frustration anglers face when they struggle to catch rainbows or kokanee salmon to take home for supper, breaking the law by taking cutthroats in the 15- to 22-inch class has the potential to harm a fishery that has already been poisoned several times in its century-old existence.
It is believed (by fishery managers) that a healthy cutthroat population will be able to control the chub population, which (when gone unchecked) caused the reservoir to be poisoned previously.
Once again, regardless of their personal believes, anglers must leave fisheries management to the professionals.
We have been blessed in Utah to have some of the finest fisheries in the nation. Why jeopardize the health of those fisheries just because you disagree with management?
Water managers face uphill battles every single time an uncaring criminal decides to stock a new species in a reservoir, or decides the creel limits are for others and not for them. Please, please, obey the law: for your good and for society as a whole.