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WALLEYE ARE TAKING OVER DEER CREEK RESERVOIR

No one was quite ready for what came up with the gill nets.

And no one was more surprised than Charles Thompson, regional fish biologist and overseer of the reservoir.Walleye. Not a few like in years past, but too many. Thompson's worst fears were there before him . . . 45 walleye in one net. Some weighed up to 12 pounds and many were no longer than the index finger, a sign that not only have the walleye taken hold of the reservoir, but are starting to strangle it.

"It used to be we'd get a few walleye and a thousand perch. We probably only got a few hundred perch this year. By the end of summer the only perch we'll find will be hiding in the deep area," the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist said.

The problem isn't so much with the fact that walleye are in the lake. Back in the eastern states the walleye is the choice of good fishermen. In Utah, however, where mountain reservoirs are deeper and fishermen are used to leisurely afternoons on the reservoirs, walleye are a last choice.

Walleye are a difficult fish to catch out west. Even good eastern walleye fishermen have gone home in embarrassed silence after spending a fruitless day, or night, fishing for Utah walleye.

The problem is two fold:

1. Walleye are not an easy fish to catch. They feed at night and rest during the day, and because of light-sensitive eyes, prefer the deeps.

2. Utah fishermen know more about rocket technology than they do about fishing for walleye. There's an art to it and few Utah anglers have the time, patience or equipment to learn.

So, walleye propagate and other fish, those more familiar and more easily caught, start to disappear.

First to go are usually the perch. Thompson saw the certainty of this in the recent netting operation.

"Also, there used to be a large population of crayfish here. They're a popular food for walleye. I haven't seen as many this year," he said.

Compounding the problem is that Deer Creek is a primary source of drinking water, which makes treatment an unlikely alternative. Also, treatment of the reservoir would destroy a stretch of one of Utah's best trout streams - the Provo River.

"I think we've got 'em, and we're going to have to learn to live with 'em. I just wish people would come up and learn to catch 'em," Thompson said. "If someone would, this would be one heck of a fishery."

Walleye were not introduced into Deer Creek legally. Someone took it upon himself to put them there. Thompson said the first fish showed up in gill nets back in 1978. Until this year, only about two dozen fish were ever netted.

This year one net alone brought up 45 fish, several of them, said Thompson, weighed over 12 pounds. Last April, the state walleye record - 15 pounds, 9 ounces - was pulled from Deer Creek.

According to Thompson, from what he's been able to find out, the secret to walleye fishing is to fish slowly and deeply . . . "Right on the bottom. Bounce a jig or lure right along the bottom. And once you get a hit, stay in the area. Some have tried trolling with traditional lead line and triple teasers, or pop gear and worms, and caught a few."

He also recommends working the rocky shorelines.

Byron Gunderson, of Anglers' Inn, said that one problem fishermen have is that a walleye hit is very light . . . "Most of the time they don't even know they've had a bite.

"If I were fishing for walleye, though, I'd get a boat or float tube, with a fish-finder, and fish with two 1/8th ounce jigs - chartreuse, either maribou or plastic. I might tip the hook with a night crawler or worm.

"Then I'd work around slowly, tapping the jigs off the bottom. I'd work from five feet of water out to 30 and 40 feet. I'd start fishing before daylight, and come back and start again around 7:30 (p.m.) . . . and I'd fish until I was too cold or too hungry to fish anymore."

Thompson did say that the walleye haven't bothered trout or bass yet. Some of the bass netted, in fact, were large and heavy. The size limit on bass is 15 inches. He said most of the bass - smallmouth and largemouth - seemed to be around structure - dead logs, willows, in the backs of shallow coves.

As for the walleye, Thompson said they are definitely there and there to stay.

"Now all we've got to do is figure out how to catch them," he said.