Smallmouth bass then and now
GREEN RIVER--Many anglers probably remember when they couldn’t see the rocks along the water’s edge of Flaming Gorge Reservoir because it was teeming with smallmouth bass. Not the case today.
“In those days, the smallmouth bass regulation was 10 fish per day and in possession,” said Green River Fisheries Biologist John Walrath. “Today, you can see every little pebble with some crayfish and maybe an elusive bass. The swarms of small bass that used to carpet the near shore rocky habitats are all but gone.”
In response to the alarming decrease of smallmouth bass on the Wyoming side of the reservoir, Wyoming Game and Fish Commission adopted a regulation that requires all smallmouth bass caught on the Wyoming side of Flaming Gorge Reservoir to be released immediately. The regulation went into effect January 1, 2017.
“We want to thank the public at large, as there was a lot of public input on the proposed regulation change and an overwhelming percentage of the public supported adopting a year-round catch and release regulation for bass,” said Green River Fisheries Supervisor Robert Keith. “The catch and release regulation implemented on the Wyoming portion of the reservoir is intended to keep the remaining bass in the water, so they can spawn every spring and help rebuild the bass population, as burbot numbers decrease. Fall netting data suggest burbot numbers are no longer increasing at an alarming rate but instead may be slightly decreasing. The catch rates of the larger and older burbot have definitely decreased in recent years.”
The best data on smallmouth bass was collected during creel surveys conducted in 2003 and 2013. In 2003, anglers were catching ~31,000 smallmouth bass in each of the three regions of the reservoir and anglers were harvesting about 15% of what they caught. The next creel was conducted in 2013, after burbot had established themselves. Angler catch rates in 2013 decreased 97% in the northern third of the reservoir, decreased 66% in the middle third of the reservoir, and doubled in the canyon portion of the reservoir. Interestingly, harvest rates during the 2013 creel survey increased to ~25%, so even though anglers were catching far fewer bass on the Wyoming side of the reservoir, they were harvesting more of the bass they caught. In 2013, the catch rates for burbot in Game and Fish nets were exactly opposite those observed for angler caught bass. The highest densities of burbot were in the northern third of the reservoir and the lowest densities were in the canyon portion of the reservoir.
“To monitor and track the bass population the Green River fisheries management crew adopted an intensive smallmouth bass monitoring program in 2016 that encompasses the entire reservoir,” said Walrath. “Electrofishing boats are used to sample bass from selected shorelines each June so biologists can track bass abundance and distribution across the entire reservoir and gauge whether the population is increasing or decreasing. The baseline data collected in 2016 will help biologists track the bass population into the future. With any luck, the bass population will rebound to a level allowing some angler harvest to resume within the next ten years.”
Anglers can acquire a copy of the 2017 Wyoming Fishing Regulations at any Game and Fish regional office, most license selling vendors, or at wgfd.wyo.gov.
For questions and or more information call the Game and Fish Green River Regional Office at 307- 875-3223.