Monday, August 16, 2010

Walleye threaten Red Fleet

VERNAL — If you want to catch big walleye at Red Fleet Reservoir, you'd better catch them soon — the walleye fishery isn't going to last all that long.

"Someone illegally introduced walleye into Red Fleet," says Ed Johnson, aquatics biologist with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. "Our surveys show we now have several strong age classes."

Biologists caught an equal number of walleye and rainbow trout in their nets during surveys this past spring. Several of the walleye weighed more than six pounds.

Johnson says walleye fishing should be good for the next few years. "Then the fishing for all species, including bass and rainbows, will crash," Johnson says. The reason? "Too many predators will [deplete] the prey base."

Only so much room
Located 13 miles north of Vernal, Red Fleet is not a large reservoir. Johnson says adding another top predator to the reservoir has overloaded its fishery with predators.

As the walleye population increases, these aggressive predators will consume greater numbers of rainbows and bluegill. The Division can't afford to raise rainbows just to feed the walleye. As the number of rainbow trout declines, the walleye will place even more pressure on the bluegill.

"As the bluegill decline, the walleye will switch to feeding on bass and on smaller versions of themselves," Johnson says. "In the end, all that will be left are a few small, skinny walleye swimming around."

Catch and kill regulation
Because the walleye were illegally introduced, the Division has placed a "no tolerance regulation" on walleye in Red Fleet:

There's no limit on walleye
Anglers must keep all of the walleye they catch. All walleye must be immediately killed.

Johnson says anglers will likely see a few years of good fishing before the fishery collapses. "We saw fewer bluegill in the nets and around the reservoir this spring," he says. "It's likely we're starting to see the effects of walleye predation [on other fish in the reservoir].

"Few anglers are targeting walleye in Red Fleet, and even fewer are catching them," Johnson says.

Division biologists are discussing ways to treat the reservoir to remove the walleye. Walleye are capable of breeding inside the reservoir, so there's no easy way to control their numbers.

For more information about fishing at Red Fleet Reservoir, call the Division at 435-781-9453.

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