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Scofield Reservoir — Officials aim to make spot popular again

SCOFIELD — The hope was that given the opportunity to catch and keep twice the regular limit, fishermen would return to what was once one of Utah's most popular fishing holes.

It appears more fish wasn't the answer. Now officials are looking to see if bigger fish will be more enticing.

The statewide limit on trout is four. New regulations this year bumped the limit to eight at Scofield.

The reason?

A drop in the number of people fishing there. The reservoir is one of the most productive and offers some of the best fishing, but pressure has dropped significantly over the past 20 years.

In 1986, anglers spent almost 347,000 hours fishing at Scofield. The number dropped to just under 115,000 hours in 2005, a drop of 67 percent.

Understandably, fewer fishermen has resulted in fewer fish being caught. In 1986, anglers caught more than 252,000 trout. By 2005, that number had fallen to less than 36,000.

A random survey this year found there were some avid fishermen who didn't even know where Scofield was.

It is roughly 100 miles from Salt Lake City en route to Price by way of Spanish Fork Canyon. Strawberry is 75 miles away.

Before making the change in the limit, said Paul Birdsey, regional fisheries biologist for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, a survey was conducted and the results were split — half wanted an increase in the limit and half wanted a decrease.

"We opted for the increase," he said.

Funding only allowed staff to run creel surveys for four months. In question is whether those surveys hit peak fishing periods.

"Which is why we're going to increase our efforts to see if we're getting the most accurate data," said Birdsey.

One concern, said Roger Wilson, cold-water fisheries coordinator for the DWR, is an increase in the number of chubs showing up in Scofield.

The first reappearance of chubs was seen in gillnet surveys in 2005. In 2006 there were 19 netted and 54 this year, which accounted to about 30 percent of the fish caught in the nets.

The solution to the chub problem at Strawberry Reservoir was to plant a predator fish, the Bear Lake cutthroat. The plan for Scofield is to plant tiger trout, also a predator fish.

In recent weeks, anglers have been catching 18- to 20-inch tiger trout.

The increase in chubs, however, has caused a change in planting plans. A couple of weeks ago, 120,000 of the 5-inch tiger trout were planted in Scofield. In the spring, 450,000 of the 3-inch rainbow were planted, and in the fall another 100,000 of the 7-inch fish.

"We're going to discontinue planting the 3-inch fish and go with 160,000 of the 7-inch tiger trout in the fall. It will be the same number of total pounds, but the fish will be bigger. And we'll be planting them at a time when we'll get better survival," he said.

Scofield is and has been one of the most productive fishing waters in Utah, which is why two decades ago it was second to Strawberry in overall fishing pressure. Then it was overrun by chubs and carp. It was treated in 1991 and no doubt lost some of its luster at that time.

But this past summer it was consistently rated as one of Utah's hot spots, and even with the eight fish limit, it apparently couldn't bring the crowds back.

Just how productive Scofield is can be seen in the overall growth of the tiger trout. Tiger trout were first planted as 5-inch fish in October 2005. By May 2006, they were up to 12 inches, and by the following October, they were between 16 and 17 inches, "which is excellent growth," said Birdsey.

"Scofield has a track record for supporting a lot more pressure and a lot more harvest than it has in recent years and still remain a quality fishery, which is why we're trying to make it more attractive to fishermen."

On a recent trip to Scofield, there were obvious signs of fishing pressure. There were rows of stacked rocks, which make excellent rod holders, along the eastern beach. There were, however, only four fishermen.

Sumner Newman of Salt Lake City was one. He said fishing in the early hours was good, but slowed in the afternoon. He said he caught and released several rainbow, a couple of large tiger trout and a cutthroat.

Byron and DeEtte Gunderson hit the snow-covered shores in the early afternoon, fished for a couple of hours and caught a couple dozen fish — cutthroat, rainbow and one large tiger trout.

They were throwing Crystal Killers and purple and black Crystal Buggers from pontoon boats. Some of the better fishing was in areas closer to shore.

Predictions are that fishing this winter, through the ice, will be excellent. The question then becomes: Will the lure of catching lots of 18- to 20-inch fish be enough to get fishermen to return to Scofield?