GREEN RIVER – While many folks may have already traded their rods and reels for rifles, late fall and early winter remain a great time to target small lake trout that continue to impact other sport fish populations at Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Game and Fish encourages the harvest of small lake trout < 28 inches or “pups.” Regardless of the species you fish for, the future of your fishery depends on the continued harvest of these small predators. High numbers of small lake trout remain a concern for fisheries managers.
A recently completed population estimate suggests there are approximately 143,000 lake trout under 28 inches in Flaming Gorge, over three times higher than estimates completed in the 1980s. There is also concern regarding the number of young kokanee these small predators consume. Diet analysis work by the University of Wyoming shows that kokanee comprise approximately 25% of pup diet annually. Managers are concerned that these high consumption rates of juvenile kokanee by small lake trout are the main reason anglers are catching fewer kokanee. The same can be said for rainbow trout in the reservoir.
“October is a perfect time to target these trout as they stage to spawn while actively spawning. This year, the spawning window will spill into the first week of November. Soon, anglers will see lake trout returning to deep water habitat, 40-80 feet of water. While fishing for shoreline spawning lake trout is soon to end, anglers can still be successful fishing for lake trout in the upcoming months.” said Robb Keith, Green River fisheries supervisor.
In November, many of the lake trout that have already spawned will move back to the deep water habitats they prefer. That said, some lake trout will remain in shallow water (10 feet-50 feet) along the cliff faces north of the pipeline. Similarly to targeting spawning lake trout, throwing white jigs, chartreuse jigs and jigs that glow to shore and working them back slowly as they sink can be productive. The habitats they hone in on after the spawn include flats, ridges, humps and draws adjacent to deep water, as well as ledges and underwater cliffs with access to deep water.
Last winter, anglers began seeing and catching smaller lake trout (<17 inches). These smaller lake trout are being found near steep cliffs in what will resemble a school of kokanee on sonar. If anglers find such a school, they can size down their gear and take advantage of the 12-fish limit. Every small lake trout harvested reduces predation on juvenile kokanee and trout and a brighter future for the Flaming Gorge Reservoir fishery.
Fisheries managers appreciate the anglers who called in tagged lake trout. The tags returned were essential to generating a population estimate of small lake trout. Anglers are reminded that payouts for reward tags ended Aug. 31. However, if an angler catches a tagged fish, they are encouraged to call the number on the tag. The data collected is useful to managers to track the movement of the lake trout.