A file photo of Curtis Orlowski, vacationing from Washington State, sets his daughter Rylee, 9, up with a fishing pole at the Heritage Park Pond in Garden City recently. They tried fishing Bear Lake earlier and were hoping to have better luck at the community fish pond.
SALT LAKE CITY — Utah Division of Wildlife Resources wants anglers to know with the extreme drought conditions still impacting much of the state, many are making changes to conserve their water use. Those planning fishing trips to any lakes or reservoirs this summer should be aware of a few changes that can help the fish, as well as the fishermen.
Lakes, reservoirs and streams throughout the state are the primary habitats for Utah’s fish, and having less water affects fish in multiple ways.
“This smaller amount of water heats more quickly and warms to higher temperatures than when there isn’t a drought,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger said. “Warmer water also holds less oxygen than colder water. The combination of high temperatures and low oxygen can stress fish, causing poor growth and disease. Fish can also die when temperatures are too warm or the oxygen levels get too low.”
Trout in low-elevation waterbodies have the greatest likelihood of being impacted by the drought this year, but low water levels and high water temperatures can affect all fish species.
DWR suggests fishermen with boats should try to visit their favorite lakes and reservoirs as soon and as often as they can. Water levels at some reservoirs and lakes are expected to be so low by July that boat ramps may not be functional.
Before planning a boating trip, be sure to check for updates on each waterbody to see if the ramps are open, especially later in the summer.
DWR is again strategically determining where fish will be stocked to reduce or eliminate fish from being stocked into places where biologists think that summer fish kills are possible due to low water. The fish that were scheduled to be stocked into drought-impacted lakes and reservoirs will be relocated and stocked into other waterbodies around the state that won’t have low water levels.
“We try, whenever possible, to continue to provide a good fishing experience for anglers, up until we think that water levels will be insufficient,” Oplinger said. “Then, we want to reduce the number of fish in that waterbody by decreasing the number of fish that are stocked there. We are hopeful that anglers will catch and harvest most, if not all, of these stocked fish by the time water levels become so low that fish survival is impacted.”
To give the fish you catch and release a better chance of survival during the drought consider fishing in the mornings or evenings when temperatures are cooler. Another way to help fish is to pick a fishing spot that has deeper, cooler water so you can release any caught fish into an area where they are more likely to survive.
“Basically, try not to fish near little coves that have shallow, stagnant warm water,” Oplinger said. “Instead, pick a spot where you can release your fish into better quality water to increase their survival rates during this hot, drought year.”
Tips for handling fish to decrease stress
- Use single hooks on lures and bend down the barbs for easy release.
- Minimize the time you spend “fighting” the fish and any hands-on handling.
- Use rubber or coated nylon nets to protect a fish’s slime layer and fins.
- Quickly remove the hook with forceps or needle-nosed pliers.
- Minimize the amount of time the fish is exposed to the air, especially when the weather is warm. And keep your hands wet when handling the fish.
- If the fish is deeply hooked, don’t pull on the line. Instead, cut the line as close as possible to where it is hooked and leave the hook.
- Allow the fish to recover in the net before you release it.
- If the fish doesn’t stay upright when you release it, gently move it back and forth.
The department provides a free, interactive online map of the state to find where to catch your favorite fish species, see the latest fishing forecasts, view stocking information, check on regulations by waterbody, post your own fishing report and more.