Despite strong opposition by Utah's largest fly-fishing organizations, the Utah Wildlife Board opened a two-mile section of the Provo River to use of any and all legal baits.
Citing overcrowding of fish in the section of river between Midway and Deer Creek Reservoir, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources asked the board to allow bait fishing on a river that has historically been limited to flies and lures only.
New regulations, which go into effect Jan. 1, will allow bait fishing and will increase the daily limit from two to four fish of any species.
DWR biologists argued that because fly fishermen catch but do not keep fish there is an overpopulation of fish, which has resulted in stunting and disease.
Anglers argued that the biological data presented to the board was old and inconclusive. The last survey of fish on the river was completed in 2000. The next sampling is not scheduled until October.
Also at issue is the limited number of so-called blue-ribbon rivers available to fly fishermen.
"I can think of 50 rivers right now that are open to bait fishing but only four that I can think of that are strictly for flies and lures only," Mickey Anderson, of Fish Tech Outfitters, said in response to the action.
"One of the objectives for restoring the river is to increase the number of fish it can hold. After they kill all the fish, are they going to turn around and go back (to flies and lures)?"
Don Wiley, regional biologist for the DWR, who requested the changes, said he wanted the board to act now rather than wait in order to take a proactive approach to river management.
The 10-mile section of the Provo River between Jordanelle and Deer Creek is in the midst of a six-year program to restore the river to its original course. When completed, the river is supposed to hold five times as many fish as before work began.
Fishing groups argued before the board that the concentration of fish was a result of construction work and that fish moved to areas of fewer disturbances, mainly the two-mile section above Deer Creek that is scheduled for work over the next two years.
Tom Pettengill, sport fisheries coordinator for the DWR, reported that an angling survey in 2002 showed fly fishermen were only keeping "1 to 2 percent of the brown trout they caught on the middle Provo. The number of brown trout in the river is increasing, and that's impacting the population."
He said the new regulations should "make the middle Provo a premiere fishery again."
One objection many fishermen have to the changes involved the process as much as the changes themselves.
"We were not given adequate time to review the proposal," responded Paul Dremann, spokesman for the Utah chapter of Trout Unlimited. "And when it was presented, there were a great many concerns and questions. None of those have been addressed."
There is concern, too, over public input through the Regional Advisory Councils. Five councils gather public opinion and present findings to the board. In some cases the complete proposal was not presented at RAC meetings, and in other cases the RAC decisions were ignored by the board, said Dremann.
"We're very discouraged by the board's actions in this matter. The facts presented by the sportsmen were completely ignored by the board," he added. "Bottom line is that in this case, the RAC process failed."
Among those groups opposing the changes were the Stone Fly Society, Utah Anglers Coalition, High County Fly Fishers and Utah's chapter of Trout Unlimited, as well as the Blue Ribbon Committee, which was appointed by Gov. Mike Leavitt to increase and improve Utah's limited blue-ribbon waters.