“Skeptical” is my middle name when it comes to determining whether or not a certain species will positively or negatively affect a fishery. When burbot (fresh water ling cod) were found in Flaming Gorge Revervoir several years ago, biologists from both Utah and Wyoming were convinced their presence just might mean the end of a superb kokanee salmon fishery. Too, they believed smallmouth bass would be the next species to suffer followed by the famed lake trout.
I wasn’t that quick to judge. You see, there are few species that so dominate the water in which they live that they destroy the other species in that body of water. Most introduced species whether legally or illegally done, eventually find their niche, neighborhood so to speak and go about living their lives, eating, resting, and reproducing. But … last week my perspective changed and now I am more than a little worried about the future of Flaming Gorge.
Gary Winterton, a good friend and host of “Hooked On Utah”, an weekly outdoors TV program in the Utah market, filmed a show at the Fire Hole boat ramp in the upper reaches of the Green River on Flaming Gorge. Within a couple of hours, the guide and the angler caught well over 100 burbot including several over five pounds. If that were all the reports I received, I’d just figure the guide knew a pretty sweet, under-fished area and took the TV host along to pick up a few extra clients. But… two weeks later, two of my three sons and I went to the same general area and in just over 2 hours caught 50, yes 50 burbot, with the largest topping 10 pounds. Anglers in other boats and anglers from the shore were having similar success.
To add insult to injury, the regulations are clear. You must kill every burbot caught. You can’t throw them back, so catch and release isn’t in the equation. After speaking with several anglers that had been fishing in the area for several “months” not weeks, I was blown away with the shear numbers of these fish that had already been or were in the process of being removed from the lake.
Guessing that there were 2000 burbot in the area would be understating the population by perhaps 10 to 15 times. As an avid angler, I can tell when a population is weak, strong, growing or shrinking. Burbot in Flaming Gore are growing, and getting stronger all the time.
Though the question still remains as to whether other species will pay the price for the burbots’ existence in the reservoir, it is apparent that ling, burbot, or whatever you want to call these snake-like predators, the fact that smallmouth bass are getting larger, and fewer smaller fish are being caught, and other species are seemingly experiencing the same catch rates (larger fish and fewer smaller ones) we may not have to wait long for an answer to that all important question: “Are Burbot Threatening Flaming Gorge?”