Last modified: Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Strawberry Reservoir

Background and history

Strawberry Reservoir is a large impoundment located in Wasatch County, 65 miles east of Utah's heavily populated Wasatch Front at approximately 7,602 feet in elevation. The reservoir is contained largely within lands managed by the Uinta National Forest. Strawberry supports one of the west's leading cutthroat fisheries and is Utah's premier cold water fishery. The reservoir typically receives about the same number of angling trips as Lake Powell, which is more than 13 times the size of Strawberry. Strawberry currently sustains about 1.5 million hours of fishing pressure every year (88 hours /acre/ year). Strawberry has developed the reputation for consistently producing large rainbow and cutthroat trout, and the 12.3-kg. (27-lb) cutthroat taken at the reservoir in 1930 still stands as the official state record.

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The Strawberry Valley Project was initially constructed during 1922 by the Bureau of Reclamation.

The Strawberry Valley Project was initially constructed during 1922 by the Bureau of Reclamation. The main feature of the project was the 8,400-acre Strawberry Reservoir, which was designed to provide storage and delivery of water to the Bonneville Basin (Wasatch Front) via the Strawberry Tunnel (West Portal). Enlargement of Strawberry began in 1973 when the Soldier Creek Dam, located approximately 8 miles downstream of the Strawberry Dam, was completed. The old Strawberry Dam and Indian Creek Dike were subsequently breached during 1985, and the original 283,000-acre-foot reservoir was enlarged to provide a maximum capacity of 1,106,500 acre-feet and a total surface area of about 17,164 acres. Strawberry Reservoir is an essential feature of the Bonneville Unit of the Central Project. The reservoir functions as the major storage facility for about 135,000 acre-feet of water diverted from the Uinta Basin through the Strawberry Aqueduct and Collection System (SACS). The Central Utah Water Conservancy District (CUWCD) is currently the operating agent for the enlarged Strawberry Reservoir.

During the early 1980s, the old fish camps around the reservoir were removed and major roads were relocated to accommodate the higher level of the expanded reservoir. A recreation management area of about 17,225 acres was established and subsequently transferred to the Forest Service. A number of recreational facilities such as campgrounds, boat ramps, day-use areas and marinas were developed on these lands. In 1988, Congress transferred an additional 56,775 acres of Strawberry Valley Management Lands (Project Lands) from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Forest Service. Subsequent Forest Service rehabilitation efforts on project lands have resulted in a substantial improvement in riparian and aquatic habitat conditions in Strawberry tributary streams.

Fisheries management

Strawberry Reservoir has been managed for more than 60 years for the production of rainbow and cutthroat trout. Yellowstone cutthroat were introduced into the reservoir sometime during the mid to late 1930s, and this species subsequently became hybridized with rainbow trout. This introduced cutthroat later become know as the Strawberry cutthroat trout, and has been widely used in the statewide fisheries management program.

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Old-time fishing at Strawberry

Sport fish management in Strawberry Valley has been influenced by a number of factors over the years including water quality problems, habitat degradation in the tributary streams, major fluctuations in angler success, and most importantly, infestations of competitive nongame fish. During the late 1950s, populations of Utah chub, Utah sucker, carp, and yellow perch had almost completely displaced trout in the reservoir. In October 1961, the reservoir was chemically treated to remove these undesirable fish. This initial treatment was highly successful, and permitted the reestablishment of an excellent trout fishery that was maintained for over 20 years.

Utah chub subsequently reappeared in Strawberry during 1973, and Utah sucker were verified during 1978. The source of these re-introductions is not known, but these populations expanded rapidly throughout the 1980s. Gill netting conducted during 1986 verified that over 90 percent of the biomass in the expanded reservoir was tied up by nongame fish. Fishing success remained relatively high during the mid '80s, due in part to the rising water levels of the reservoir. However, it was apparent that the recreational fishery would eventually collapse under the intensive interspecific competition with nongame fish.

During 1990, Strawberry Reservoir was once again chemically treated to remove Utah chub and Utah sucker and to re-establish the sport fish quality. This project was the largest chemical treatment ever attempted, and certainly met the treatment goal of a 99 percent removal of nongame fish. After the treatment, Strawberry was restocked with Bear Lake cutthroat trout, sterilized rainbow trout, and kokanee salmon. The fishery developed rapidly, and by 1996 anglers were fishing over 1.4 million hours and catching more than 617,000 game fish each year. The average catch rate at this time was greater than 0.5 fish per hour. This level of pressure and catch rate have been sustained through 2001. With the angling public helping through voluntary catch and release, we will hopefully enjoy this excellent fishing well into the future.

Limited numbers of Utah chub and Utah sucker were once again found in Strawberry Reservoir as early as the spring of 1993. Although the early reappearance of these species is disappointing, their eventual return was anticipated. The current game fish assemblage in Strawberry is intended to resist major nongame fish re-infestations. Bear Lake cutthroat trout are voracious predators, and will hopefully be able utilize the nongame fish as a forage base. Prior to the treatment in 1990, studies indicated that the Bear Lake cutthroat were better able to survive than some other trout in spite of the overabundant nongame fish at that time. Kokanee salmon should do very well if the nongame fish populations expand in the reservoir. These fish are very good competitors for the same food resource, and they also inhabit a different niche within the reservoir than most of the nongame fish.

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