Proposed Changes to Flaming Gorge Fishing Regulations Address Decrease in Kokanee

Proposed Changes to Flaming Gorge Fishing Regulations Address Decrease in Kokanee

Wyoming Game and Fish Fisheries Supervisor Robb Keith presents proposed changes to fishing regulations for the Flaming Gorge Reservoir Wednesday night. SweetwaterNOW photo

GREEN RIVER — Anglers of the Flaming Gorge Reservoir have noticed a drop in the Kokanee Salmon population over the last few years, and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department has proposed some changes to the fishing regulations to address this issue.

During a public meeting Wednesday night regarding proposed changes to fishing regulations for the Gorge, Fisheries Supervisor Robb Keith said that that the small lake trout, less than 28 inches long, are to blame for the decrease in Kokanee. This is due to the high population of small lake trout eating juvenile Kokanee, prohibiting the Kokanee to grow to a mature age and size. The small lake trout also eat the same zooplankton and other food sources the Kokanee need to survive.

The WGF stocked the Gorge with roughly 1.6 million juvenile Kokanee from 2014-2023, which are 14 inches and less, however, these numbers were sustained only through 2018. Numbers began to drop in 2019 when there were around 1.4 million Kokanee in the Gorge, and by 2023 there was less than 500,000. Keith explained that juvenile Kokanee need four summers to reach matured age and size, and “that’s when you see them at the end of your line.” Due to the small lake trout, the one and two year old Kokanee are decreasing every year.

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Netting crews for WGF netted 927 lake trout between May and August 2023. The majority were under 22 inches and they were sexually mature making them able to spawn. WGF have a current theory that is being tested for confirmation that there are two strains of lake trout in the Gorge, and that a lot of the small lake trout are a separate strain than the large lake trout. They believe that a lot of the small lake trout are 10-20 years old and have hit maximum growth potential. This means that they will never grow into trophy size, and the more these lake trout spawn, fewer and fewer large lake trout and mature Kokanee will be able to survive in the Gorge due to food sources and predation.

Proposed Solutions Via Regulation Changes

WGF said that after speaking to several anglers in 2023 who experienced poor Kokanee fishing, the public made it clear that they wanted swift and aggressive action to restore the fishery, and they wanted to be part of the solution.

Therefore, WGF immediately began the process of proposing changes to the fishing regulations for the Flaming Gorge. The proposed changes, along with public comments, will go to the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in June. The commission will make final decisions on the proposed changes in July 2024, and if approved, they will go into effect on October 1, 2024. Keith explained this is just in time for the lake trout spawning season when they are most vulnerable to anglers.

One of the biggest changes to the fishing regulations being proposed includes reducing the creel limit on Kokanee from four to three daily. This change addresses resident concerns about Kokanee being over-harvested by anglers.

However, the most important proposed change is changing the designation of the lake trout to a non-game fish. This means there would no longer be a creel or possession limit on lake trout 28 inches and smaller. For trophy lake trout bigger than 28 inches, there will still be a limit of one fish in possession per day.

The rationale for this change is to decrease the predation by the abundant small lake trout that are decimating populations of other popular sport fish, including the Kokanee and larger lake trout. This change also allows anglers to be part of the solution, as they will be the ones catching as many small lake trout as they can, and removing them from the Flaming Gorge.

Some residents at the meeting Wednesday asked what they should do with all the fish if they don’t like to eat lake trout. Keith said that he also doesn’t like to eat lake trout, but he still catches them up to the current daily limit and will gift them to people who do enjoy eating them. However, the proposed designation of the small lake trout as a non-game fish would also allow proper disposal of unwanted fish, meaning anglers do not have to harvest them for food and can instead dispose of them once off the water, like they do with the burbot.

The designation would also allow for fishing derbies, make it legal to sell edible portions of the fish, allow underwater spear gunners to use artificial light, and legalize the use of lake trout as dead bait.

WGF is currently seeking comments from residents on these proposed changes, which will then be sent to the WGF Commission for final approval. The public comment period will close June 10, 2024, at 5 p.m. Comments can be mailed to Wyoming Game and Fish Department Wildlife Division, Attn. Regulations, 3030 Energy Lane, Casper, WY 82604; or they can be submitted online at