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Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Kokanee Salmon Populations

I was having a conversation the other day with friend and fellow guide John Gordon about the dwindling Kokanee Salmon run that comes out of 11mile reservoir.  The last 3 years have been dismal at best and it seems to be getting progressively worse.  The most salmon I had seen this fall in the Dreamstream was a pod of 15-20 fish that were staged right above the gauging station bridge.  The following week I searched the entire river from Spinney dam down to 11mile reservoir expecting a large late run of Kokanee and spotted a total of 3 fish.  The days when the river turned red making it almost impossible to cross without stepping on a salmon seem to be a thing of the past.  The questions we should be asking are why and what can be done, if anything, to bring back those epic runs?

I told John G. that I had talked to several different game wardens about 4 years ago and they told me that the fish in the reservoir are suffering from gill lice.  Not knowing much about gill lice I did some research and they are nasty little critters.  The lice are typically found when water conditions are poor, and they damage a fishery by making homes in the gills of the various fish species making it harder for them to breath and absorb oxygen.  But all indications hint that the gill lice hold on 11 Mile reservoir is over and has been for the past couple of years.

When the question was posed on the Anglers Covey forum (why are the runs weak?) it was also brought to my attention by owner David Leinweber that the current stocking program for Kokanee is not ideal for good Kokanee runs.  The current program has the state stocking larger Kokanee into the reservoir to try and keep the population of hungry Northern Pike from destroying salmon numbers right out of the gate.  The problem with that is when it is time for salmon to spawn they tend to migrate to where they were planted.

If they were planted in 11 mile reservoir then do the math...  The program is great for the guys trolling around in boats on the lake but what about the rest of us anglers that like to sight fish and catch kokanee in the river?  John sent me an email the following day of an article he found that provides very promising news that there is still hope to recover what we have lost.  The most intriguing part of the article is the fact that this year was a record year for harvesting Kokanee eggs for breeding in Colorado.  And that they plant almost as many fingerling salmon in the East River by Roaring Judy Fish Hatchery as they do in Blue Mesa Reservoir.  Blue Mesa is where the mature salmon live and migrate from as they work their way up the Gunnison and East river back to the hatchery where they were born.  Blue Mesa is also home to the current state record Mackinaw which is another major predator of the Kokanee.

The reason we still see the occasional kokanee in the Dreamstream in the fall is because even though they were stocked in the reservoir they also have instincts telling them to migrate up river to spawn.  This has me wondering why they don't do the same thing for the South Platte that they do for the East.  And that is stock as many salmon in the river as they do in 11 mile res. and stock them as fingerlings.  That way the year class of kokanee that were stocked in the lake would theoretically follow the salmon that were stocked in the river up to spawn and we can all bend our rods on these insanely strong fish without having to drive 3 hours once again.  If they can do it for Blue Mesa inspite of the large predatory Lake Trout then they can do it for 11 Mile with its Northern Pike.

There is one more thing that has always bothered me I feel needs to be changed that I want to share and then I will get off my soap box.  The current limit for harvesting salmon in 11 Mile Reservoir is 10!  That number is way too high.  Not that most anglers trolling around in their boats are pulling in those kind of numbers, but if the limit was 2 on a day when some guy managed to land 7 then that many more salmon will live and have a chance to spawn.  I'm sorry guys I know salmon tastes amazing but 10 fish is an extreme overkill. 

The current salmon limit also opens the door for unethical fishing practices because when a salmon is only in it's 2nd or 3rd year of life and has not fully matured it looks remarkably like a trout.  It is way too easy for someone to keep more than the legal limit of trout by claiming they thought they were catching Kokanee salmon. If you're asking me if people deliberately do that kind of thing I would respond with, "I have seen worse".  At the risk of making some greedy state politician or brass from the Division of Wildlife angry, I would urge any sportsman or woman that pay the high cost for a fishing license every season to demand more for our fisheries. 

If enough people wrote the Division Of Wildlife and pushed for some kind of effort to be made on fixing problems such as this, and maybe even provide some kind of intelligent solutions we would all benifit.  Click here to read the article John G. showed me about this years record harvest of eggs.  For more information on all things flyfishing including ways to improve our states fisheries please subscribe to

Tight lines and screaming reels!

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