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Strawberry outlook optimistic

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There were not as many fish in the gill nets this spring, but the ones that were there gave reason for optimism.

There was a sizable sample of big fish and year-old fish, good numbers of kokanee, not so many chubs."Which means fishermen may not catch as many fish this summer, but there's a good chance that the ones they do catch will be big fish," reported Bob Spateholts, special project biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "I'd say the average size of the big ones was around four pounds.

"We did get some chubs, but the numbers were low. Typically, we don't get many in the spring because the water is still pretty cold. But, like I said, the numbers we did collect were low."

The fact that the larger fish are showing up indicates that the older plants - those planted prior to 1995 - are doing well. The fact that there were fish in the 8- to 9-inch class means the fish planted in 1996 and 1997 are also doing well.

The absence in the nets of fish in the midsize class means the supposition that the fish class of 1995 was eaten holds water.

"The kokanee and trout we planted in 1995 are just not out there. We believe this is a result of heavy predations," said Spate-holts. "We had a lot of big fish that year and not many chubs and suckers for them to eat. So, when we planted the fingerlings they gobbled them up.

"Since then we've changed the time of year we plant, and we stock them in close to shore to reduce predation and increase survival. The fact we have fish showing up in that age class shows it worked and that we can expect good fishing for the next couple of years."

The 500,000 sterile rainbow, purchased over the winter, will be planted later this month.

Spateholts said the fish are about 5 inches long right now. By next year they should be at a catchable size of between 10 and 12 inches.

The level of the reservoir is currently high, which means lots of new areas have been flooded. What that means is an abundance of food in the flooded areas and "possibly a change in the patterns of fish. The hot spots this year could be somewhere other than where they were last year," he added.

Elsewhere, the state's planting program is on schedule.

According to Tom Pettengill, sport fisheries coordinator for the DWR, 10 million fish, mostly rainbow, but with a mix of brown, brook, splake, kokanee and tiger trout, will be planted in Utah waters this year.

"Each water is different. Some we make one big plant each year, some we plant on a regular schedule throughout the summer. We'll plant the lakes along the Mirror Lake Highway, when the snow clears, every two weeks. What that means is that because of scheduling some of the lakes may get fish every week," said Pettengill.

"So what I tell people is that if they aren't catching fish at one lake, move to another."

The rivers are running high due to runoff, but when the levels drop the more popular ones, such as the Weber, Ogden and Logan, will be stocked with catchables about every two weeks.

The pattern for summer fishing is pretty standard. The mid-elevation lakes, such as East Canyon, Rockport and Deer Creek, offer good shore fishing in May and June but are turned over to boat fishermen as the waters warm.

At this point, shore fishermen move to higher lakes, such as those along the Mirror Lake Highway, Strawberry, Flaming Gorge and Smith-Morehouse.

For now, fishing gets an overall rating of good. Shore fishermen are doing well at mid-elevation lakes using traditional baits, such as nightcrawlers and Power Bait.

Mantua has been excellent for bluegill; Pineview has been good for crappie in areas of heavy cover; Jordanelle has been good from shore using Power Bait for pan-size fish; Burraston Pond out of Mona has been stocked several times, and fishing is good with Power Bait; Flaming Gorge has been good from shore using night-crawlers; Fish Lake has been good for splake, rainbow and perch, but when the moss begins to show up, the shore fishing will turn slow; and Lake Powell continues to be good, especially for smallmouth bass along rocky shorelines.