Fishable Ice At Flaming Gorge & Funding Both

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FISHABLE ICE AT FLAMING GORGE AND FUNDING BOTH RECEDING

WY G&F

1/31/03

Contact: Bill Wengert or Lucy Wold (307) 875-3223

For Immediate Release

GREEN RIVER— If you fished on Flaming Gorge Reservoir recently two things are certain: you had a tough time finding thick ice and chances are you saw a low-flying red and white Cessna aircraft.

Green River Fisheries Biologist Bill Wengert says the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources plane is counting anglers as a part of an intensive creel survey initiated by UDWR and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.

“The last intensive creel survey on Flaming Gorge was completed in 1993,” says Wengert. “So, it has been 10 years since estimates of angling pressure, harvest and other vital biological data concerning the catch have been collected on Flaming Gorge.”

Prior to 1993, Flaming Gorge creel surveys were conducted every four to five years. The surveys are valuable to fisheries managers to identify angling pressure and preferences, species caught and size and the return of stocked fish to anglers. The information generated from this survey is used to assess the quality of the fishery and provide a sound basis to make management decisions, including annual fish stocking and regulations.

Unfortunately, funding crises encountered by G&F and UDWR in the last 10 years prohibited the states from funding the estimated $30,000 price tag for the airplane and pilot. Fortunately for G&F, UDWR allocated the funds to complete the survey.

“Basically, the UDWR volunteered to cover most of the survey costs, including flight time, data entry and computer summary costs,” Wengert said. “G&F is covering the cost of one Wyoming fishery biologist’s time and equipment to collect the creel information from boat, shore, and ice anglers on the Wyoming side of the reservoir.”

Wengert expects there will be eight plane flight-days per month and the same number of ground surveys to interview anglers.

The Joint Travel, Recreation, Wildlife, and Cultural Resources committee is sponsoring five G&F funding proposals in the 2003 legislative session, including a bill that would increase the price of resident and nonresident hunting and fishing licenses and application fees by approximately 20 percent.

Passage of these proposals is essential to ensure the current level of services G&F provides will continue. Should the increased license fees not be approved by the Legislature, Wengert worries fisheries crews will be forced to eliminate activities in order to fulfill high priority projects, like the intensive creel survey.

“I’m concerned,” Wengert adds. “Because of the current funding crisis seasonal jobs will be cut. Our crew is already under staffed.”

Inflation, declining license sales and expanding responsibilities have combined to create a serious problem. Inflation since the last license fee increase in 1997 has eroded G&F purchasing power by 20 percent. Deer and antelope license sales, the core of G&F funding, have remained at a level 30 percent less than the 25-year average for the last five years. Costs have continued to increase from more funds spent on health insurance to disease control and access programs.

Wengert, who has managed the Gorge for 26 years, knows that only prolonged cold temperatures will provide anglers with thicker, safer ice. He also knows G&F needs the support from anglers and legislators to provide relief from the prolonged funding crisis.

“Anglers on Flaming Gorge Reservoir need thicker ice to fish and the Game and Fish needs increased funding to maintain the quality fisheries underneath that ice,” he said. “Approval of the funding proposals in the Legislature would assure funding and provide personnel to accomplish jobs like the Flaming Gorge creel survey, native cutthroat restoration work, and a host of other jobs needed to continue providing quality fisheries resources in the Green River Region.”

Wengert’s ice fishing outlook is just as straightforward.

“Ice anglers on Flaming Gorge are having a difficult time finding new ice to fish,” he regrets.

He says the fishable ice extends from the northern most limits of the Green River and Blacks Fork arms of the reservoir through the Confluence area to approximately one mile north of Current Creek. Ice thickness ranges from nearly 12 inches in the Firehole (Green River Arm) and Half-way Hollow (Blacks Fork Arm) areas to 6 inches in the areas north of Current Creek.

“Safe ice south of the Current Creek area, with the exception of the backs of bays, does not exist,” he said.

Wengert says the reservoir was frozen from Current Creek down to Squaw Hollow by Jan. 11, but since has retreated.

“Wyoming boat ramps have been iced in,” he said. “Should the Squaw Hollow ramp become ice free, boaters should be extremely cautious because of the shifting ice flows on the reservoir.”

All boat ramps in Utah are ice free, but Horseshoe Canyon is completely frozen, which means boat anglers cannot access the Sheep Creek area from Lucerne Valley Marina.

Ice fishing to date has been fair to good. Most of the fish being caught are 12- to 13-inch rainbow trout but some 18- to 20-inchers are also being reported. Small lake trout and a few brown trout are also being caught. The lake trout are averaging 21 to 23 inches but and a few trophy size fish (36 inches and larger) are being caught.

“Anglers are keeping nearly 70 percent of the lake trout caught,” he said. “Again, I encourage anglers to keep as many of the small lake trout as they legally can. The limit is four per day or in possession, only one lake trout may be 28 inches or larger.”

No safe ice exists in the areas of the reservoir where the larger lake trout are more likely to be caught. The water in the Confluence area has been slightly “off color” due to a slow decrease in the reservoir water surface elevation and subsequent down cutting of the Green River into bottom sediments, which have been depositing in the upper Green River arm for the last 20 years.

“These water quality conditions are not preferred by lake trout, because they are sight feeders and prefer cold, clear, well oxygenated water,” he said.

Wengert adds safe ice conditions and adequate funding have something in common: They are difficult to guarantee at this point.

“If safe ice conditions develop in the Buckboard area and farther to the south, lake trout fishing, as well as fishing in general, should pick-up,” he said. “Although the farther into the winter we go without ice, the chances for better fishing get slimmer.”
 


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