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A big fish story at Strawberry: New stocking technique showing tremendous success

Published: Wednesday, June 16 2010 5:38 p.m. MDT

"We selected this location because of how shallow the bay is and how warm the water gets. Chubs like this area. Also, after the treatment in 1990, if chubs were to show up, this is where we would have found them. We continued to use this location not only to see what the chubs are doing, but also the cutthroat," Robinson said.

Those fish caught in the nets, he noted, were big and fat and had great color.

One fish, a 14-inch rainbow, had been planted last year and had nearly doubled in size and, by the end of summer, should be between 16 and 17 inches.

The second net, the deep-set net, was in an area called Meadows East, which is just east of the Narrows. This net held the largest and the most fish, and the most crayfish.

The third net was set in the Meadows Southeast area and the fourth at Haws Point, a popular fishing spot for shore anglers because of the steep drop-off.

Once the four nets were pulled, the group headed back to shore and to the DWR raceways behind the Strawberry visitors center.

Once there, volunteers and DWR staff removed the fish from the nets and set about doing the lab work.

The first things recorded were the length and weight. The fish were then placed under the black light to determine their age.

Prior to being planted, fish are blasted with a fine inert plastic in one of three colors — orange, red or green. The color identifies the year. When placed under a black light, the color identifies the age class.

"Once we have the age class, we can look at things like survival, growth rate and return to creel. There's all kinds of information we can get under the light," said Ward. "We can also identify hatchery fish and those from natural production. Over the past 18 years, we've had about 35 percent of our cutthroat come through natural reproduction. The only way we can get this information is by marking the fish. It's one of the best tools we have for managing and following the populations."

The slot limit was originally 15 to 20 inches. A few years ago it was widened in order to leave more of the larger cutthroat in the reservoir in the hope they would eat more of the chubs.

And it appears the management plan is working.

"Chub numbers are down considerably," said Ward. "Last year during spring netting we caught 611 chubs. This year we caught only 245. The one caveat is the water temperatures were cooler this year, and chubs are more active in warmer water."

There was also an increase in the number of suckers caught in the nets, and Ward said this is something that "we'll have to watch."

Because the sampling of kokanee is so small, he said he would have to wait on anglers' reports over the next few weeks before estimating population trends.

The one mystery this year was the appearance of a single whitefish in a net.

"As far as I can tell, there has never been a whitefish in Strawberry. How it got here or where it came from is a mystery. It's unlikely it was illegally planted, because the whitefish is not a sport fish. Also, whitefish are typically found only in rivers and streams," he said.

As for current fishing conditions, recent fishing reports lean toward fair to slow fishing success. Ward said this is usually the case in the spring. The water is still cold, the fish not as active, and the hatching of spring bugs help keep the fish full and less interested in lures and baits.

As the water begins to warm and fish become more active, fishing will improve. As summer progresses, waters become even warmer and the fish begin to move to deeper, cooler waters.

If spring gill net sampling is any indication of what's to come, anglers can expect to catch more and larger fish.

State fishing report

Deer Creek — Anglers report good success for trout, whether fishing from a boat or the shoreline. The water level is high.

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