Reduction and eventual maintenance of lake trout population size at desired levels will be best achieved through a combination of lake trout harvest by anglers and removal by Colorado Parks and Wildlife staff. Fish populations will be monitored over time to assess whether harvest and removal are being effective; but it is expected that removal work will continue indefinitely.
Anglers do catch a significant number of lake trout and Colorado Parks and Wildlife continues to encourage anglers to harvest this species. Since 2009, anglers have harvested about 17,000 lake trout, three times the number Parks and Wildlife staff have removed. The main reason is that anglers are on the water in much greater numbers throughout the year: about 60,000 anglers fish at Blue Mesa annually.
Angler harvest of lake trout will make the largest impact on kokanee recovery efforts. Lake trout under 26 inches in length are most abundant and therefore consume the most kokanee. There are no bag or possession limits for lake trout measuring less than 38 inches.
Smaller lake trout are often caught by anglers pursuing other fish species. In fact, 84 percent of the lake trout caught are under 22 inches. Lake trout make excellent eating and are very nutritious. Anglers can, literally, fill their freezers with this delicious fish.
By reducing the lake trout population, overall kokanee catch rates for Blue Mesa anglers will improve. But there's also something in this for lake trout anglers – as smaller fish are removed a greater number of lake trout will grow to trophy size.
During the last four years, biologists have removed about 4,800 lake trout from the reservoir. About 800 lake trout were removed in 2012. Biologists hope to remove up to 2,000 lake trout this year.
Although removal efforts have always targeted primarily small lake trout, Parks and Wildlife made a management change during 2012 regarding the maximum size of lake trout to be removed. Biologists only removed lake trout that were 32 inches or less in length. In 2010 and 2011 a limited number of fish up to 38 inches were removed. The change was made because lake trout in the smaller category comprise the largest population segment and therefore consume the most kokanee.
For anglers, fish more than 32 inches are often considered trophy size. So this change will allow more of the big lake trout to remain in the reservoir.
Also new in 2012 was an effort by Colorado Parks and Wildlife to transplant some of the captured fish to other waters. Last fall 70 lake trout were moved from Blue Mesa to Twin Lakes. Biologists hope to move more fish next year to provide more opportunity to anglers.