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.