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Great fall fishing in northeastern Utah

Rainbows and top predators produce good fall fishing

VERNAL — Remember hearing the advice, "if you want to catch fish, especially big fish, fish early in the spring and in the fall?" It is good advice and this year is no exception. Reports are already coming in of good or fast fishing on many of the region's waters and several big fish have been taken recently by anglers and in Division nets.

photo
DWR biologists hold the big walleye recently caught in Red Fleet Reservoir study.

"We've heard of some nice fish coming out of Steinaker and Starvation reservoirs," said Ron Stewart, conservation outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR). "Starvation anglers have been excited about the size and fight of the rainbows."

At Big Sand Wash, however, it's a different story.

"Big Sand Wash is likely the region's most underutilized fishery, as no one seems to be fishing it," Stewart said. "It was recently increased in size and a nice boat ramp installed when they worked on the dam. We also acquired an additional fishing access point in the northeastern corner. When we restocked it with rainbows, they really responded well.

"Unfortunately, this summer has produced a mixed bag of reports from Big Sand Wash. We've heard of some big fish, rainbows and smallmouth bass, but the rainbow fishery seems to be suffering. There haven't been many caught from the younger year classes.

"Recent monitoring efforts confirmed what we were hearing. The biologists netted a smallmouth bass weighing in at over four pounds but there were few of the younger classes of rainbows."

Smallmouth bass a fish not intended for the reservoir has interfered with the biologists' ability to manage the reservoir's fishery.

"Big Sand Wash has both smallmouth and largemouth bass, neither of which was stocked by the Division," said Trina Hedrick, regional aquatics manager. "We do stock fingerling rainbows and it looks like they are what the bass are feeding on.

"Right now, bass are active due to the fall weather and anglers can help the situation in Big Sand Wash by taking out as many bass as possible. If anglers don't remove bass, the fishery will crash as we cannot afford to feed them rainbows.

"Instead of a productive rainbow fishery, we will have a stunted bass fishery and not much else. We could be looking at an expensive treatment to remove them and reset the reservoir."

DWR Biologist Natalie Boren reported similar events happening at Red Fleet with walleye, another illegally introduced fish.

An angler sent her a photo of a walleye measuring 27.5 inches and estimated to be around 8.5 pounds. This was the largest one she had heard of until September 12 when she caught two bigger fish in her study, 10.45 and 9.2 pounds. The tails on her fish were beaten up or eaten so they could only estimate their total lengths at 27.75 and 27.5, respectively.

Are there bigger walleye in Red Fleet?

"The biologists believe there are," Stewart said. "They predict these eight- to 10-pound walleye are likely two or three reproductive age classes behind the largest fish. That means Red Fleet could be harboring walleye big enough to challenge the state records."

At a first glance, these illegally introduced fish seem wonderful, but they are disasters waiting to happen.

"A sad and unfortunately often repeated story of western waters is a productive fishery crashes because someone illegally introduced another fish," Hedrick explained. "It is generally a top predator like walleye, bass, lake trout or burbot. These top predators need a broad prey base, usually several highly productive species in a large body of water, and we just don't have that in the Northeastern Region.

"Give it a few years, and instead of the traditional, productive fishery, anglers and the surrounding communities lose everything. They get either a stunted fishery of the illegally introduced top predator or a cyclic fishery where for every two or three years of fair to good fishing, there are eight to 10 years of poor fishing.

"Removal of these top predators by the public may help with the management of these illegal fisheries by delaying the crash," Hedrick said. "But, we need to get anglers, especially the anglers who target these species, to think catch and keep rather than catch and release. Save a big one for another day if you can't bring yourself to kill it, but take all the smaller fish, especially the "teenagers" because they are eating your fishery, quite literally."

So, don't put those poles away just yet, now is a good time to fish for all species of trout and to help one of these fisheries by catching and removing the illegally introduced bass and walleye. And, who knows, one of those lunkers might be destined to be on the end your line.

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