Wildlife officer holds cutthroat trout taken from traps at Strawberry Reservoir.
Rainbows are keepers. So are some cutthroat. Others aren’t. It all comes down to the ruler. Otherwise, when it comes to cutthroat trout in Strawberry Reservoir size matters.
Which is why the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources planted more than half a million “larger” cutthroat trout last month. Smaller fish, the agency found, were being eaten, often by their own kind.
By planting larger fish, not withstanding attacks by pelicans, there will very likely be better fishing at Utah’s favorite fishing hole in the years to come.
And it's not a bad idea to take the trip to Strawberry for the fourth and start your day with fishing before you see any fireworks.
All total, there will be roughly 1.7 million new residents in the reservoir this year, which is located 23 miles southeast of Heber.
This will include the 500,000 eight-inch cutthroat, already planted, 500,000 eight-inch rainbow, scheduled for introduction this fall, 400,000 kokanee salmon and 300,000 smaller cutts to be planted in the reservoir’s tributaries in the fall.
All this will benefit what is already a reservoir “in good shape.’’
The division recently completed a gillnet survey, which is a good measure of the overall condition of the reservoir .
The results, says Alan Ward, Strawberry project leader for the DWR, are:
- Rainbow numbers are good.
- Cutthroat numbers are a little lower than expected.
- There are a few more younger chubs, which is a concern.
- There was no sign of illegally introduced fish.
Monitoring is done in two phases‚ gillnet checks and spawn surveys.
Cutthroats spawn in May. To reach spawning beds they swim up rivers. The DWR has set up a checking station on the Strawberry River. Fish swim into traps where they are caught, weighed, measured and released to swim upriver to spawn.
“Some years we will also take eggs if we aren’t able to collect enough from our brood stock. This year we didn’t need to take eggs,’’ notes Ward.
“The fish we release will spawn naturally, which we like to see because it ultimately puts more fish in the reservoir. On average, over the past 20 years, we’ve seen about 35 percent success with the natural spawn. It varies, though. Some years it may be as high as 60 percent and some years as low as 5 to10 percent.’’
Because of the poor winter it will be difficult for fish to spawn this year. The low runoff has resulted in some tributaries having little or no water.
The other part of the monitoring system involves the setting of gillnets at various points around the reservoir. The nets are set in the afternoon and retrieved in the morning. Fish caught in the nets give biologists an idea as to the number of fish in the reservoir, populations of the various species, growth, chub numbers and the possibility that someone may have introduced an unwanted species in the reservoir. There are certain species of fish that if introduced could destroy sport fishing at the reservoir.
“We did not find any big surprises (with respect to illegal introductions), which is always good news. It’s something we always worry about. Overall, things looked good. Rainbow numbers looked really good. We’re seeing lots of rainbow in multiple year classes, which is very encouraging. These fish are available to anglers. The largest rainbow in the nets weighed more than four pounds,’’ he says. Some cutthroats recently caught have weighed upwards of 8 pounds.
This is one of the large cutthroat trout pulled from the traps and then released in the river.
One reason for the larger fish is the decision to plant eight-inch fish, which are less likely to be eaten by larger fish. Another reason is planted fish are taken out in barges and released in deeper water where they are not as vulnerable.
Ward expects that by the end of summer the cutthroats planted will be up to 12 inches, “and by next year, they could be up around 15 to 16 inches.”
Special regulations at Strawberry allow anglers to keep rainbow, but must release all cutthroat between 15 and 22 inches. The limit is four trout or kokanee, but no more than two cutthroat—one under 15 inches and one over 22 inches.
Alan Ward, Strawberry project leader, prepares to weigh and measure fish taken from the traps.
Location: 23 miles southeast Heber, 65 miles from Salt Lake City
Capacity: 1.1 million acre feet
Maximum Depth: 200 feet
Surface Area: 17,164 acres
Tributary Streams: 170 miles
Fishing Pressure: 1.5 million fishing hours
Game Fish: Rainbow trout, Bear Lake cutthroat, kokanee salmon, crayfish
Non-Game Fish: Utah chub
Elevation: 7,602 feet
Constructed Started: 1922