Column: A suggestion for maintaining trout populations in our lakes

As we move into the cold weather time of the year, this is also that time of the year when a number of local area fishing derbies become active once again.

Between now and next summer, there will be various derbies at nearby waters such as Pyramid Lake, Lake Tahoe, Topaz Lake and Walker Lake.

And as is typically the case, those various derbies attract a large number of fishermen (including yours truly), all eager to take home one of the many attractive prizes being offered.

Those prizes range from a first place prize of a brand-new fishing boat with motor and trailer offered at Pyramid Lake to a cash prize of $1,500 offered at Walker Lake.

And, yes Virginia, fishermen such as Little Donnie Q enter those derbies for basically two reasons:

1. The ability to brag to anyone who will listen about being one of the top finishers in a derby. Most particularly, winners love to brag to their fishing partners, friends, relatives, co-workers and obnoxious brother-in-laws.

2. The many, nice prizes associated with being one of the top winners.

As a matter of interest, several of those derbies attract large numbers of entrants. For example, the Custom Boat and Marine Derby at Pyramid Lake in November, which benefits the Nevada Operation Game Thief Program, has a cut-off of 500 contestants and the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce Derby at Walker Lake last November attracted about 400 anglers.

Those are big numbers.

Equally as important to remember is that all of those anglers also catch many trout at those locations.

And, that's the purpose of this column.

With that said, I would like to shift the focus to one specific lake: Walker Lake.

Last year, the Thanksgiving Day weekend fishing derby at Walker Lake had a format of offering impressive prizes for the heaviest stringers of fish.

This resulted in several things happening, both of which, in my less than humble opinion, were negative.

The first negative thing was that by offering prizes for the heaviest stringer of fish, that particular derby, unknowingly, encouraged "team" fishing.

By team fishing, I mean that all the members in a group of shore fishermen or all of the people in one boat could "team up," select one individual to represent that group, have that one individual turn in the heaviest fish caught by the entire group and then everyone could share in the cash prize.

Is that cheating? Of course, but it is almost impossible to prove.

The second negative thing that happened was that by offering impressive prizes for the heaviest stringers of fish, that derby, unknowingly, encouraged the killing of up to five trout per angler.

With some 400 contestants, if all of the anglers had limited out with a limit of five fish per person, that would have represented a total of 2,000 Lahontan cutthroat trout killed and gone forever.

And that Thanksgiving Day weekend fishing contest was just one of a number of derbies which were held last year at that lake.

Again in my less-than-humble opinion, the cutthroat population at Walker Lake is too small to handle that kind of heavy, fishing pressure.

And quite frankly, the marked drop-off in success at that lake in the last several years bears out that thought.

Fishermen, who used to catch and release 20 or more trout per day to bring home a limit of five, are now working hard for an entire day to catch 3-4 fish.

What has changed to bring about this marked decrease?

The lake level has been coming up since the drought years as more water continues to come down the Walker River. So, it's not lack of water.

The weather is beautiful, most of the time, making for great fishing conditions. So, it is not bad weather that is chasing away the anglers.

The Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) plants many tens of thousands of small cutthroat on an annual basis. So, it's not a lack of fish, although the planters are, admittedly, very small.

There is no charge to use the boat launch facility. So, it's not a question of fishermen staying away because of costs.

And with the exception of contestants in the various derbies, the total number of fishermen seems to be fairly constant.

With all that said, then what is the problem at Walker Lake?

Well, by a matter of elimination, Little Donnie Q has arrived at a conclusion that the only other variable is that the lake's fish population must be decreasing.

I personally believe that is exactly what is happening at Walker Lake.

With the normal fishing pressure found at that lake compounded by the sharp increase of fishermen associated with the various derbies, the Lahontan cutthroat trout population can not sustain that kind of pressure.

So, what can be done?

Heck, that is easy to answer.

I firmly believe and strongly advocate a very simple, but highly effective, solution to that particular problem.

I would like to see some sort of rule or regulation enacted that would be applicable to all fishing derbies in the State of Nevada but most particularly at places like Walker Lake.

Very simply, that rule or regulation would state that every organized derby would be required to replace every pound of fish caught during its derby.

As an example, if the Mineral County Chamber of Commerce fishing derby this November produces a total of 1,000 cutthroat that totally weigh 3,500 pounds, then the sponsor (the Chamber in this example) should be required to immediate replace the 3,500 pounds.

Not the 1,000 fish but 3,500 pounds.

It would be a very simple, but highly effective, way of maintaining fish populations in our lakes and reservoirs.

That way you could have an unlimited number of derbies at lakes and reservoirs, such as Walker Lake, and those derbies would not affect the quantity and quality of the fish populations.

What do you think?

I for one would like to see the return of 20+ trout days at Walker Lake.

Sadly, I don't think that will happen until there is some type of change.

-- Bet Your Favorite Pigeon

Bet your favorite pigeon that he can't tell you the size of the cutthroat planted in Walker Lake by NDOW.

If he responds with the statement: "those planters are about 3-4 inches in length," he is very knowledgeable.

And, as an other personal opinion, Little Donnie Q believes that a large number of those small planters end up as very nice appetizers for the larger cutthroat lurking in Walker Lake.


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