Thursday, September 11, 2014

Boulder Mountain Fisheries Management Plan

Hey Folks!  This story has been a long time coming, but I wanted to make sure that all of my information was correct and things were somewhat "official" before I shared the information with my readers.

Back in November of 2013, I was contacted by the Utah DWR to see if I would be willing to participate in a public committee charged with providing input of a new fisheries management plan for the Boulder Mountain area of southern Utah.  Since this is my absolute favorite area to fish, I excitedly said yes, looking forward to provide my 2 cents on my favorite area in the west, which happens to lie on my back doorstep.

Before I talk about the plan, I want to share with you a little about the process.  This all really exceeded my expectations, and the process also ended up happening a lot different than I had expected.  During our first meeting, Richard Hepworth, the Aquatics Program Manager for the Southern Region expressed the intent of the meetings was for him to simply "steer" the meeting, however the expectation was laid out that the Division wanted us, the public members of the committee to provide our input on what we want to see, and ideas of how we wanted the desired outcome to come about.
Trophy brook trout the the Boulder mountain is famous for

Here's a look at who was involved on the committee:

· Dixie National Forest
· Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council
· UDWR Regional Advisory Council
· Mike James Angler (Guide)
· Dustin Rooks Angler
· Scott Albrecht Angler
· Jason Porter Angler
· Lance Larsen Angler
· Dewain Peterson Angler
· Graig Ogden Angler

I was initially impressed to see the mix of people on the committee, from agencies, guides, and anglers both young and well, more seasoned we will say.  Our first step was to lay out a mission statement, something to sum up what we desired to achieve as a committee:

“Develop a sport fish management plan that will maintain and/or improve the quality, diversity, and
uniqueness of the fisheries in Boulder Mountain lakes.”


Several months before I was even contacted, the DWR released a poll on their website asking anglers to choose from a list of options as to the current condition, desired condition, and most sought after fish species on the mountain.  This is were it is important to note that issues about grazing, water rights, and access were NOT of focus or concern during the process.  This was simply about creating a plan that would address the fisheries of the Boulder Mountain.

Taking that input from the poll, it was easy to see that most people wanted to see the Boulder regain it's reputation as a world class brook trout fishery (the poll showed that most thought that the current condition of the fishery was not consistent with a trophy brook trout fishery).  There was also a large percentage that wanted to see more diversity of species, for example, more tiger trout and splake trout.  There was also a standout number of people that wanted to see a high opportunity to catch fish (regardless of size).  So, take the public desires, combine that with 82 lakes that needed attention, the task was starting to look very daunting.

Another example of what we hope to see conditions return to on the Boulder Mountain
At this point, I really expected the DWR to get heavily involved on what they recommended, and I also expected there to be a lot of disagreement among members of the committee.  I want to stress this to my readers very honestly, very frankly.  Not once did I feel like the Division of Wildlife was wanting to push their wants or desires upon the committee.  While the DWR members did provide a wealth of information of past trends, and what they had seen work and not work, they never tried to lead the committee down any certain path.  In fact, repeatedly it was stressed that this plan was whatever the committee wanted it to be.

I was also impressed with the functionality of the committee.  With such a diverse group, I was amazed at how all of our goals and objectives, wants and desires seemed to line up with each others thinking.  The make up of the committee was excellent as well.  Young anglers with kids of their own, a guide that knows the lakes well, and of course, the "seasoned" anglers that can remember the good old days of fishing on the Boulder, and what lakes specifically produced those record brook trout.  As well, Dale Hepworth with the Blue Ribbon Fisheries council also provided a wealth of information from his days as a biologist on the mountain, as well as ways his group could help with funding to help our cause.

I've told several people about how well the process went during our meetings, and how the DWR basically let us, public committee members do our thing.  No, I was not brainwashed as some have come to think.  Nor was I bribed or persuaded in any sort of way.   I know it is easy these days to lay blame and cast doubt upon government officials or employees, but I walked away from this experience feeling like the managers of the southern region aquatics and fisheries programs genuinely care about the state of their fisheries, and also have a great deal of concern about providing a quality experience to the people that utilize those resources.

Tiger trout, a new, popular species on the Boulder
Now, the plan itself is quite lengthy, in fact, it is too lengthy to include into this already lengthy post.  First, knowing that 82 lakes is a big task, and each lake has differing potential, access, and use, we came up with criteria of what folks want; opportunity (to catch fish easily), quality (a bit bigger fish, but still higher catch rates), trophy (large fish, probably not as many as far as quantity), and conservation (to protect/grow species, such as Colorado River cutthroat trout).  Now I want to address conservation.  I was approached by a gentleman that had heard about our committee, and he also heard we were going to treat McGath lake, remove brook trout, and introduce cutthroat.  Very false information!

I want to make it known that the committee only recommended 1 new conservation lake for cutthroat (Blue lake, north creek lakes) and actually moved to take cutthroat out of a handful of other lakes, going back to brook trout.  Blue lake made sense, if cutthroat were there, then the stream could be treated and cutthroat introduced there as well.  It is very important to expand the Colorado river cutthroat trout habitat (stream miles does that better than a 2 acre lake).  If this fish goes endangered, then the federal Fish and Wildlife service can step in, trump the state, and convert as many waters as they want to cutthroat only.  It's a difficult balance for our state, and we have to accept the need for the cutthroat.  But as I said, this was only added to 1 lake, removed from others, and stream miles show we are doing our job to increase that habitat, keeping them from being listed.

Also, sterile brook trout (triploid), and sterile species like tiger trout can be added to those waters to increase the fishing opportunity.

"stunted" brook trout, evidence of an over-populated fishery
So, we looked at all the lakes, one by one.  Taking past history, and what anglers can remember from the past, as well as with what we want to see, we came up with a target for each lake.  We also looked at groups of lakes, and tried to mirror the success of areas like the North Creek lakes, and the North Slope Lakes (Blind, Fishcreek, etc.) and tried to mirror that on other areas of the mountains.  This would make it possible for an angler to go to a group of lakes and be able to fish for different species, and objectives (lots of fish, trophy fish, etc.).

I can't list all 82 lakes and what each one will present in the future on this post (very lengthy), but here's a summary:

  • The majority of lakes on the Boulder mountain will be managed for trophy brook trout fishing.
  • Easy to access lakes will continue to provide opportunity fishing.  A nice bonus will be that this will not mean just rainbow trout.  Expect to see more catchable-sized tiger trout in some of these lakes as well
  • There are a few lakes that will emphasize trophy arctic greyling fishing.  It's already very possible we have state record greyling in a couple of lakes up there.
  • Some easy to access lakes will now have a trophy component to them.  For example, rainbows may be an opportunity fish in a lake (high catch rates) while brook, tiger, or splake can also be introduced as a trophy fish (they feed differently). 
  • There are recommendations to try devices (aerators) to try to help lakes with survivability that typically winter-kill.  Also, measures to take care of weed problems are being looked into.
  • Splake trout will be added to a couple of lakes, this might provide a unique ice fishing experience, more diversity, and another trophy species.
Also, it was noted that to get big fish in a lake does not mean planting more fish is the answer.  For example, a lake can hold 100 pounds of fish (food, space, habitat).  That can be 100, 1-pound fish, or 10, 10 pound fish.  Simply put, many of our lakes are just overstocked, that's one big reason we no longer see as many trophy brook trout on this mountain.  Adjusting stocking rates will be a big driver behind achieving the desired conditions.  Also, 2 lakes are in need of drastic change, as they are currently full of stunted brook trout.  Donkey Lake on the north slope, and Oak Creek Reservoir on the east.  Residents of Wayne County, as well as committee members are in favor of a quick fix for Donkey, which will mean treatment and removal of all fish as soon as possible.  Sterile brook trout would then be re-introduced, and we should see a trophy fishery there once again as in the past.  For Oak Creek, treatment was not in favor by all, so instead the DWR will move to increase the limit there to 16 fish per day to lower the population.  It will be monitored closely, to see if it's working or not.

I mentioned ice fishing above.  One regulation recommendation is to remove the ice fishing restriction on several of the Boulder mountain lakes.  People just aren't keeping as many fish these days.  This may be a big factor contributing to larger fish populations, and thus the lack of trophy fish.

A "quality" Boulder Mt. brookie, (17")
This plan, and the recommendations to the regulation changes (ice fishing and limits) are in the proposal phase.  Right now (in fact, this week) these recommendations have been and will be presented at RAC meetings throughout the state.  If the RACs approve, the final stage will be approval or modification by the Utah Wildlife Board.  DWR employees at our committee meetings feel very good about our committee results, and expect a lot of support from the RAC, Wildlife Board, and the public as well.

This is all very brief, I wish I could detail the lakes more.  If you have specific questions about any lake, or the plan in general, email me and I will provide more information.

Again, I want to say this was a very interesting process, and it was a pleasure to participate in it.  What I take away from it most is that your voice does matter.  I will stress it over and over again, this plan is the committee's plan, and these fishery managers do care about the success of the fishery, and the needs of the public as well.  I really think this plan reflects that perfectly.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

iBobber Photo Contest

What do you think, is it about time for a contest???

The folks over at ReelSonar want us to help them out in giving away a free iBobber!  Not sure what that is?  Maybe you didn't get a chance to check out our review of this amazing little sonar/fish finder and the app that goes along with it for your smartphone.  If not, follow this link for more information:
http://www.suhuntandfish.com/2014/06/ibobber.html .

Well, we can't just give this away just like that!  We want to have some fun with this one, so we are going to run a contest over the next 3 weeks.  In light of how the iBobber adds to the fun of the fishing trip, we want you to share your photos of your most memorable fishing trip!  What better timing as we approach the 4th of July weekend.  Maybe your photo will simply be of your most recent fishing trip, that's alright too.  We will accept you into the contest either way!

Here's the three steps you need to follow to qualify for the contest (to gain an official entry):

#1:  You must submit a fishing photo as explained above.  Please limit 1 photo per entry (1 per person) this time to make it a bit easier on our judges.   You may either post the photo to our Facebook page or submit photos by email at suhuntandfish@gmail.com

#2:  "Like" Southern Utah Hunt and Fish on Facebook OR follow us on Twitter

#3.  "Like" ReelSonar on Facebook  OR follow them on Twitter.  Be sure to tell them that SU Hunt and Fish sent you!

That's it!  But feel free to share the information to your friends to help get the word out about iBobber if you would please!

The contest starts now, and will end at 10:00 PM, August 4th MST.  At that time we will begin the process of selecting a winner based upon the photo the panel of judges selects as their favorite.

Good luck to you all, and we can't wait to see your photos!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

iBobber

You may have seen the ReelSonar logo in our list of sponsors on the sidebar for a few months now, and have wondered what it's all about.  I'm excited to finally get the review of an amazing product called the iBobber out to you!
http://reelsonar.com/

Last year I was contacted by the folks at ReelSonar about my possibly interest in helping them to introduce a revolutionary new product for the fishing world to our viewers through this site.  Although at that time the iBobber was in the very early stages of development and testing, it was fairly easy to see that this product had the potential of being a very big hit to fishermen worldwide.  So we excitedly signed up to help spread the word, with the promise that when the product had completed testing we would have one come our way to test out on Southern Utah waters!

About 2 months ago the iBobber showed up on my doorstep!  I was very excited to break it out and get the review underway, but a series of spring commitments (both work and personal), plus a string of bad weather events when I did have the free time to fish led to a time lag in getting the product out on the water.  Over the past 3 weeks I have finally had a few opportunities on some local lakes, and I'm excited to share my thoughts with you on the product.

First, what is the iBobber?  This my friends is the smallest sonar/fish finder that I have ever seen in my life!  I was pretty content with another portable fish finder that I had received about 3 years ago, which I picked up because it was very compact, light weight, and portable.  However, I never imagined having a fish finder that could fit in a pocket!

The iBobber is simply a large "bobber" (I say large in comparison to bobbers, this thing actually fits easily in the palm of your hand).  The iBobber is the actual sonar.  How do you read the display?  Well, that's the pretty amazing part; the iBobber links to your smartphone via Bluetooth!  With a 100' range this gives you a lot of freedom to move about, away from your fishing rod even while maintaining an eye on whats going on beneath the surface.  My initial thought with this fish finder was pretty obvious, probably something most readers are already thinking about as well; now I have a way of checking out what I can't get my boat and current fish finder into.  I was excited at the thought that if my casting was accurate, I could check up against logs, rocks, weeds, and other structure to determine if the fish were there.

So how about my experience with the iBobber?  Well, honestly the first trip was a little rough!  I read up on the instructions, and hit the water, and found myself unable to connect to the iBobber for the first time.  Typical of me, I hiked to the lake and left the instruction booklet in the truck.  OK, now let's try this again!

The second trip I took all I needed with me!  I had no trouble at all gaining a connection to the iBobber, and it immediately began streaming the depth and lake bed visual to my phone.  I had made some simple mistakes the first trip, in fact I had connected then and didn't realize it!  Within seconds this time, it started to pick up fish as well, sitting at about 12-16' deep in 20' of water.  No wonder my top water tactics weren't working this day!  A quick adjustment and I was into great trout fishing in no time!

The next test was the water bed mapping feature.  I read up on the instructions in the manual, this seemed easy enough.  Just go into the mapping mode, cast the bobber, then click start on the iPhone.   Then reel back in, click the stop button and the map would be displayed.  Well, it was just that simple for sure.  A quick 60' drag back into the boat and the map revealed to me a couple of deep pockets, by the way the display looked I would guess they were formed by boulders.  These pockets looked very appealing for fishing, and wouldn't you know it, they did provide the best opportunity for catching brook trout that evening.

Back in the main menu, I also found my way into readouts such as water temperature, air temperature, relative humidity, winds, and barometric pressure.  This small device can do just about everything that those large, expensive fish finders will do.  It also features a lunar calendar, and "trip log" where you can enter details about your trip for future reference, as well as a means of sharing that information with your fishing pals via social media.  Of course it is also equipped with a strike indicator alarm and even an LED beacon.  This little jewel really does it all.

The only real problem that I encountered was again my fault, as the next trip I did not recharge the unit.  The specs indicate that it has an 8 hour battery, which I believe is accurate, as I used it quite a bit before the last trip.  I failed to bring the charger with me!  Again, purely my fault and I felt disappointed to map another one of my favorite lakes.

The iBobber at work from the float tube
After I have worked a few of the "personal kinks" out, I will say that the iBobber has not disappointed in the least!  I am a big float tube fisherman (mainly fly fishing from the float tube).  It's nearly impossible to attach a sonar to a float tube, and if so I have had trouble dragging it through obstacles or tangling line around it with fish on.  I was very stoked and impressed that I could attach this little bobber right to the side of my tube, pull out my phone, and see what was going on beneath me.  I don't attach the bobber to my rod in this setup, as it doesn't work with my fly fishing technique, but it still does the job.  The only thing I have to be very careful of is to not drop the phone!  I keep it in one of the arm pouches where all I have to do is open the pouch zipper to look at the screen, without taking the phone out where it could fall.  The iBobber fish finder has been very key in locating larger brook trout which take refuge in deeper "holes" in thick vegetation!


The only test I wish I could perform with the iBobber is with ice fishing.  ReelSonar does state the the bobber is perfectly safe and operational for ice fishing.  With a depth range of 135' I am very stoked to get it out on Fish Lake this winter to search for lake trout in the deeper waters of this large lake.  I can also see a huge benefit to the freedom it gives you to move about on the ice.  I quite often find myself in and out of the shelter, or away from my one rod tending to kids, getting them setup to fish as well.  It will be great to keep the sonar in the water while taking the display with me on the phone as I move about!

So to break it down, I really don't have any cons with this product, so here's the pros for you:

Affordable: ($99 for the iBobber and the app is free)
Extremely portable
Very easy to use
Gives a big advantage to where you can see (by casting) over other sonar devices
Easy to charge
Excellent visual graphics with today's smartphones
Bluetooth Smart connects easily with your phone and is low use on the phone's battery
Charging unit is also small and portable (vehicle, ATV, etc.)
Waterbed mapping feature saves a lot of work of moving your watercraft around

These features and others (such as the trip log/sharing capability) make it FUN to use!

And again, a review on some of the specs:

Casting range of 100' (Bluetooth range)
Depth maximum of 135'
Fish Finder/Sonar
Strike indicator alarm
Water temperature
Weather
Lunar Calendar
Water bed mapping
Trip log
LED beacon
GPS tagging (to tag fishing hotspots)
8 hours of battery life
59mm diameter, weighs 47 grams
The unit powers on simply by contact with water

Again, this product is very new, and in fact you won't even find it in most of the major sporting goods stores yet.  Southern Utah Hunt and Fish was extremely privileged to get in on the iBobber so early in it's creation.  It's going to be a great product due to it's functionality and simplicity!

So where can I find the iBobber?

The easiest thing I would recommend would be to visit the ReelSonar website and click on the "retailers" tab at the top of the page to find your closest dealer.  More dealers are being added frequently.  While you are on their webpage, be sure to browse through it to check out more information such as frequently asked questions, specifications, where the development of the iBobber came from, and a short clip of the iBobber in action.

You can also purchase the iBobber directly from the ReelSonar website.

We will be sharing more about this incredible little sonar device as well in the future, complete with video of the iBobber and it's features in action.  For now I will say that I stand firmly behind this product and would most definitely recommend it to my viewers and friends.  I look forward to using the iBobber on more lakes and in more applications, and sharing it with you here.  Stay tuned for more!

And a big thanks to Alex over at ReelSonar for allowing me to be a part of the journey!



Friday, May 16, 2014

Navajo Lake Gill Net Survey

Well we always save the best for last...

Wrapping up the week we are excited to share another good gill net survey report that should excite anglers this fishing season.  Early in the week Mike Hadley and a few folks with the Utah DWR made their way up to Navajo Lake to get a look at conditions there.  Many folks have been worried with the lower water levels, fearing that fish survival was poor this winter.  Take a look at this report, and more importantly the photos that follow.  Looks like once again there's some good evidence reported to prove a few of these fears wrong:



The ice came off Navajo Lake east of Cedar City a couple of weeks ago and a combination of slow fishing and a number of dead fish observed had Utah Division of Wildlife Resources fish biologists concerned that there may have been some winterkill in the lake. Despite six inches of new snow, we rushed up to set nets in the lake to assess the situation. When we pulled the nets on May 9, we found some good news and some sort of bad news. First the good news: although there was some winterkill, including most of the rainbow trout left over after last fall, nice-sized splake (a hybrid cross between brook trout and lake trout) were fairly abundant. We caught splake up to six and seven pounds, although fish over ten pounds have been caught in recent years. Now for the sort of bad news: all the splake we looked at had been binging at the Utah chub buffet. Most splake had multiple chubs in their stomachs – the record was a 16-inch fish that had eaten 13 chubs in the last day or so. This means that many of these fish are not hungry and the fishing this spring may continue to be a little tough. Don’t let it keep you from taking a trip up there, however. Although you may only catch a few fish, you’ve got a chance to catch a big one.


Utah Division of Wildlife Resources fisheries technicians Aaron Esplin (left) and Josh Verde (right) show off a couple of nice splake caught and released during a trend net survey at Navajo Lake on May 9, 2014.

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources fish biologist Mike Hadley holds a six-pound splake caught and released during a trend net survey at Navajo Lake on May 9, 2014

Utah Division of Wildlife Resources fisheries technician Josh Verde (right) and fish biologist Richard Hepworth (right) show off some of the splake – including a seven pounder – caught during a trend net survey at Navajo Lake on May 9, 2014.

This sixteen-inch splake caught during a trend net survey at Navajo Lake on May 9, 2014, had nine Utah chubs in its stomach.
 
It looks like there's some great options for fishing this spring in Southern Utah!  The forecast looks great!  Where will you be fishing this weekend?

Be sure to send us some photos of your success!