Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) aquatic biologists are developing a program to involve more anglers in the management of the fishery at Blue Mesa Reservoir. Two public meetings have been scheduled to discuss the plans with the public.
The first meeting is Dec. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at CPW’s office in Montrose, 2300 S. Townsend Ave. (Hwy. 550). The second meeting will be Dec. 19 at 6:30 p.m. at the CPW office in Gunnison, 300 W. New York Ave.
Lake trout are effective predators and have reduced kokanee salmon survival since becoming established in the reservoir, located west of Gunnison. Since 2009, CPW has used netting during the fall to remove lake trout from the reservoir in an effort to sustain kokanee salmon and to balance the fishery for all sport anglers.
“We know we can have an excellent kokanee fishery and a trophy lake trout fishery, but we need to continue our work for both species,” said Dan Brauch, aquatic biologist in CPW’s Gunnison office.
From 2009 through 2017, CPW removed an average of about 1,200 lake trout annually, specifically targeting fish less than 28 inches in length. Anglers, however, harvest an average of about 6,000 lake trout per year.
To take advantage of anglers’ skills, CPW is planning a harvest-incentive program. The proposed program will run from Feb. 1 to July 31. Anglers could receive cash rewards for catching tagged fish, if they are randomly selected through a raffle, and for catching the most fish.
Only lake trout less than 24 inches will be accepted through the program in an effort to maintain trophy lake trout opportunities. The smaller-sized lake trout are being targeted because they consume the largest amount of small kokanee salmon.
“Anglers are much more efficient at catching lake trout, and we want to continue encouraging anglers to take these fish home,” Brauch said. “We hope that a harvest-incentive program will allow anglers to maintain lake trout populations at suitable levels so that additional netting work by CPW is no longer necessary.”
The lake trout population is very healthy at Blue Mesa, where the daily bag limit for fish less than 32 inches is unlimited. Continued harvest of lake trout is necessary to maintain their population at a level that will allow abundant survival of kokanee, officials say. Lake trout depend on kokanee to grow to trophy size of 50 pounds or more.
Full details on how fish will be collected and how the program will be administered will be explained at the December meetings.
“CPW wants anglers to actively participate in helping manage Blue Mesa and we look forward to hearing from anglers regarding this proposed program,” Brauch said.