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Improving fishing on the Boulders

New additions could be Colorado cutts, splake

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BOULDER MOUNTAINS — There are lakes here with big fish and lakes with tiny fish. Understandably, the lakes with the big fish get fished while the others go ignored.

A proposed plan would ignore the good and improve the bad. Sound simple?

Not for everyone. The mere suggestion of tampering with the Boulders raises the hackle of some fishermen.

"And, really, all we want to do is take those lakes that have the poorest and worst fishing and improve them," said Dale Hepworth, program manager in the Southern Region of the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "No one fishes those lakes now. You mention treatment, though, and people think we're going to ruin the Boulders."

The lakes on the Boulder Mountains, near the southeastern corner of the state, are among the state's most beautiful and productive — some of the lakes, anyway. There are lakes where an overpopulation of fish has caused stunting. Fish grow to about 10 inches, too small for anglers, and stop.

In the past, the problem lakes have been treated. This includes some of the most popular like Fish Creek, Oak Creek, Donkey Reservoir and Beaver Dam Reservoir, twice.

Over the past two years, the DWR has gathered public comments and compiled information from angler surveys. What it found was that there is a strong perception that "fishing opportunity in the Boulders is declining."

As a follow-up, the DWR targeted between 14 and 18 lakes that have little or no fishing pressure because the fish there are too small.

The plan calls for the worst lakes to be treated and restocked with native trout, in this case the newly acclaimed Colorado cutthroat, along with rainbow, tiger trout and splake. Tiger trout are a hybrid mix of a brown and brook, and splake are a hybrid between a brook and lake trout. As hybrids they cannot naturally reproduce and therefore can be managed through planting.

Hepworth pointed out that there are secondary benefits to the plan. In the case of the Colorado cutts, not only will Utah be returning a trout to its native waters, but the state will also be earning conservation credits from federal agencies. The Colorado cutts are currently being studied as a possible addition to the endangered species list.

What anglers have to understand, continued Hepworth, "Is that by doing nothing we could be facing a greater problem. If the Colorado cutthroat is listed, we could lose control and be very limited in what we can and cannot do in the future."

There has been some concern expressed over the planting of the cutts because of an earlier introduction of the Yellowstone cutthroat.

"But the two are very different fish. The Yellowstone has been judged inferior to the brook, but that's not the case with the Colorado. A lot of people mistake the Colorado cutts for the golden trout. In areas where we've started to introduce Colorado cutts, fishermen have been pleased," he said.

What makes the Boulders such a premier fishing spot is the abundance of food, which is due in part to the fact the lakes in the Boulders are shallow, weedy and produce an abundance of food.

"What this means," said Hepworth, "is we can produce a trophy fish on the Boulders in just two summers. This has made the Boulders one of the premier fishing spots in North America . . . some lakes, anyway."

A few of the lakes listed for treatment currently offer marginal fishing. Those lakes will be watched and left untouched if fishing improves.

He said the DWR is still seeking public input and that those anglers wishing to voice an opinion can call the Southern Region (1-435-865-6100).

In the meantime, biologist will continue to monitor the marginal lakes and study the poor lakes, and try and dispel rumors that treatments have already begun, which they haven't, and that the DWR has plans to ruin the Boulders, which it hasn't.

E-mail: grass@desnews.com