Anglers visiting Duck Fork Reservoir recently have noted two major changes. First, the reservoir is in the process of draining. It is about half drained and should reach its dead storage volume of about 80-acre feet within another two to four weeks. Second, some emergency changes in fishing regulations have been posted. The new regulations are very liberal, allowing anglers with a valid Utah fishing license to keep up to 16 trout and use any legal bait. Formerly the limit was two trout and fish had to be caught with artificial flies or lures.
Why the management changes? They are part of a plan by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and United States Forest Service to remove nonnative fish from the reservoir and turn it into a brood lake for Southeastern Utah's only native trout species. That unique species is the Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Having a brood lake will allow DWR to annually produce large numbers of Colorado River cutthroat trout for conservation and sport fish stocking purposes. Adult fish will be trapped in the major tributary, Duck Fork Creek, during the spring spawning season. Then eggs will be extracted, fertilized, and transported to a hatchery. After the eggs hatch, fish will be raised to fry or fingerling size and then stocked.
Without a brood lake for Colorado River cutthroat trout, there would be an increased likelihood of this rare species becoming federally listed as threatened or endangered. Also, fishing opportunities for cutthroat trout would dwindle in Southeastern Utah. During 2000, DWR in cooperation with numerous other agencies, made a decision to discontinue stocking nonnative cutthroat trout and require all subsequent stocking to be with Colorado River cutthroat trout.
Additional management actions will be necessary to establish a brood lake at Duck Fork Reservoir. Application of rotenone to the reservoir and its tributaries will be needed to completely eradicate nonnative cutthroat trout, which readily interbreed with Colorado River cutthroat trout and would reduce their genetic purity. The DWR hopes to perform the rotenone treatment project in September, after draining of the reservoir is complete and anglers have had an opportunity to harvest most of the fish. Rotenone application will occur over a period of 2-3 consecutive days. More information on the rotenone project can be found in an environmental assessment recently released by USFS.
Use of rotenone and introduction of Colorado River cutthroat trout are supported by the results of an angler survey, and have been approved by the Sanpete County Commission, Emery County Commission, Emery County Public Lands Council, Southeast Regional Wildlife Advisory Council, Utah Wildlife Board, and Utah Fish Health Policy Board. An application proposing these actions was sent to the State Resource Development Coordinating Committee. The Six County Association of Governments and Southeastern Association of Governments reviewed the application and had no comments. Although rotenone use is already considered a state-approved action, a final decision on rotenone use will not be made until responses to the environmental assessment are evaluated. That decision will be made by the DWR regional supervisor.
The USFS hopes to construct a concrete fish spawning trap on Duck Fork Creek, and to make changes in road and trail use which would facilitate administrative access to the trap during the fish spawning season. These actions could occur as early as this fall, but would more likely take place in fall 2003. They are described in detail in the environmental assessment. Decisions on the actions will be made by the forest supervisor.
Refilling of Duck Fork Reservoir will begin the same time the rotenone treatment project occurs. Colorado River cutthroat trout will be stocked after natural dilution and detoxification of rotenone occurs, probably by late October. Anglers should note that the current emergency fishing regulations will end on October 1. At that time, tackle restrictions requiring the use of artificial flies and lures will take effect again, and the reservoir and tributaries will be closed to the possession of cutthroat trout.
Duck Fork Reservoir has an exciting future! It will remain a quality cutthroat trout fishery, but with a unique and beautiful subspecies of cutthroat trout that can grow as large or larger than the present subspecies. The DWR intends to continue stocking tiger trout as a species that anglers can harvest.
Anyone who wants more information on the Duck Fork brood lake project should contact Louis Berg at DWR (phone 435-636-0268) or Cara Staab at USFS (phone 435-384-2372).