Trout vs. Chub

Trout vs. Chub: Graduate student Lisa Winters holds a mature tiger trout. Trout grow quickly when they are on a Utah chub diet.
Graduate student Lisa Winters holds a mature tiger trout. Trout grow quickly when they are on a Utah chub diet.
Scofield Reservoir (a 2,815-acre, man-made lake), has, “Historically [been] the most important trout fishery in Utah’s southeastern region…” says Dr. Phaedra Budy, Unit Leader for the U.S. Geological Survey Cooperative Fish & Wildlife Research Unit at USU.

The trout (tiger, cutthroat and rainbow) now share the reservoir with high densities of Utah chub. The reservoir is thick with chub – a carp-like fish that matures quickly and is extremely prolific. At times chub have outnumbered trout in Scofield Reservoir nine to one.

Trout vs. Chub: The competitors: trout vs Utah chub in Scofield Reservoir
The competitors: trout vs Utah chub in Scofield Reservoir
The Utah Chub is native to the state, as indicated by its name, but it wasn’t observed in the lake until 2005.

The main concern for fisheries managers is whether or not the growing population of chub will compete with sport fish for food and/or space, as has been observed elsewhere, or whether chub can be effectively controlled by trout populations.

Trout vs. Chub: Undergraduate student Konrad Hafen holds a mature Tiger trout which preys on the Utah chub.
Undergraduate student Konrad Hafen holds a mature Tiger trout which preys on the Utah chub.
In an effort to answer these questions, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) commissioned a multi-year research project with Dr. Phaedra Budy’s Fish Ecology Lab in the Department of Watershed Sciences, Quinney College of Natural Resources to determine the predator and forage relationships between the trout and chub.

Fishing on Scofield Reservoir
Fishing on Scofield Reservoir
Based on this USU research, one observed benefit of chub is the impact it has on the growth of trout that eat it. After stocked tiger and cutthroat trout reach a certain size (usually a year after being stocked) they switch to a diet of fish and begin eating the chub.

According to Gary Thiede, fishery biologist in the Department of Watershed Sciences, once the trout begin eating chub they grow rapidly. Tiger trout in particular grow to very large sizes eating a diet of 100% chub.

Sunset on Scofield Reservoir
Sunset on Scofield Reservoir
The chub may, therefore, be beneficial to the reservoir’s ecosystem if the numbers are controlled.

DWR has used three trout species to control the population of chub and also enforced a catch and release rule for larger cutthroat trout so the biggest predators would remain in the reservoir. But since chub can live up to 30 years, some of the adults have reached a size where they are too big for trout to eat.

Graduate student Lisa Winters holds a tiger trout likely stocked earlier that spring. It takes at least a year before the stocked fish grow big enough to begin preying on the chub.
Graduate student Lisa Winters holds a tiger trout likely stocked earlier that spring. It takes at least a year before the stocked fish grow big enough to begin preying on the chub.
In 2016, it became obvious the public would no longer tolerate waiting for the trouts’ appetite to decrease the chub population.

After an extensive public input process, of gathering over 2500 public angler surveys, a committee was formed comprising of Scofield residents, sportsmen organizations, and wildlife agencies to develop a management plan, which would provide DWR recommendations to control the Utah chub population and create a sustainable, high-quality fishery at Scofield.

Research technicians pull in a net full of Utah chub.
Research technicians pull in a net full of Utah chub.
The plan was reviewed and approved by the Central and Southeast Regional Advisory Councils.

The first step in the plan will be DWR introducing three new fish to Scofield: wiper (a hybrid of white and striped bass), tiger muskie and triploid walleye.

According to Chris Wood, the southeastern regional supervisor, “All three grow quickly and have an appetite for the Utah chub.”

Justin Hart, the DWR’s aquatics manager in southeastern Utah said, we don’t want to completely eliminate [the chub], but we do need to get their biomass down. We plan to use the chub to grow some big fish.

Once the chub population has dropped, DWR will resume stocking the rainbow trout – a favorite among the state anglers.

If the plan is successful, the chub population will remain at a sustainable level and be a benefit, instead of a burden to the Scofield Reservoir trout populations.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Trout vs. chub, Dueling it out in Scofield Reservoir, https://wildlife.utah.gov/blog/2014/trout-vs-chub/

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Hayley Glassic with a Bear Lake Cutthroat Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Hayley Glassic with a Bear Lake Cutthroat
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
In Bear Lake, there lives a small, bright blue eyed, bottom-dwelling fish species that may appear insignificant as it moves among the lake’s cobble areas.

The fish grows up to three inches in length and is endemic to Utah’s northern most lake, hence its name – the Bear Lake sculpin.

The sculpin is a scale-free, tadpole-like fish with a broad flat head, a slender body and eyes placed high on its head. It has elaborate pectoral fins that stretch out like decorative fans from both sides of its body and two dorsal fins along its back that sometimes connect at the base.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Sculpin Courtesy & Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Sculpin
Courtesy & Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Although the sculpin is small, its worth is significant. One of the main sportfish of Bear Lake, the Bonneville Cutthroat trout, rely heavily on the sculpin to be a source of food as its main forage fish, the sculpin makes up more than 70% of the diet for juvenile trout.

Interestingly, Bear Lake is the only place the sculpin is natively found and it is one of only two sculpins in the West that live in deep-water lake habitats.

It stays exclusively in the lake. While other fish in Bear Lake migrate up the tributaries to spawn, the sculpin seek out the lakes cobble areas where it can find cavities under and between the rocks to lay its eggs.

The best cobble habitat in Bear Lake is along the eastern shore at Cisco Beach where the shallow water covers the rounded rocks that range from 2-12 inches in size. Only 0.1% of Bear Lake is cobble habitat.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Bear Lake Sckulpin Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Bear Lake Sculpin
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
The shallow location of the cobble is important for the successful nest since the wave turbulence begins the hatching process. Waves and currents also help with the dispersal of the sculpin embryos throughout the 282 square kilometer lake.

Once hatched the young-of-the year have a feeding ritual quite different from their juvenile and adult counterparts. While the older sculpin stay on the bottom of the lake foraging for food, the young float up during the day to where the sun easily penetrates the water. The sunlight makes it easier for the young sculpin to find their food and it warms their bodies so they can digest their food more rapidly– which stimulates growth. The young sculpin can feed up to nine times faster during the day than they would at night. Once they have grown, it is difficult for sculpin to rise up the water column because they do not have swim bladders as trout do.

An essential component to have a large population of new sculpin each year is to ensure there is sufficient cobble habitat in Bear Lake.

When drought years hit, large portions of the cobble are exposed due to both that drought and human use. While the lake has never dropped to the level where all cobble habitat is exposed, a USU research team has documented more than 96% of cobble reductions during extreme multi-year drought events. This raises major concerns and questions about how a decrease in cobble would impact the sculpin population.

To investigate this question, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources awarded a research grant to Jereme Gaeta, assistant professor in the Department of Watershed Sciences and the Ecology Center in the Quinney College of Natural Resources to improve our understanding of the potential effects of drought on cobble habitats and fish communities.

Bear Lake Sculpin - Cottus extensus: Sculpin in Haley Glassic's hand Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Sculpin in Haley Glassic’s hand
Courtesy & Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Hayley Glassic, a graduate student in Gaeta’s lab has worked on this project since 2015. In the coming months their findings will be published and made available to the public.

This may be important reading for any agency or person making decisions about the Bear Lake water levels, which would impact the cobble habitat of the Bear Lake sculpin.

According to Glassic, “Sculpin appear to be one of the essential parts of the entire (Bear Lake) ecosystem.” Ensuring their cobble habitat is preserved during drought years is necessary for the overall health of the lake’s ecosystem.

This is Shauna Leavitt for Wild About Utah.

Credits:
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Jeremy Jensen
Photos: Courtesy and Copyright Jereme Gaeta
Text: Shauna Leavitt

Sources & Additional Reading

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, USGS, https://nas.er.usgs.gov/queries/factsheet.aspx?SpeciesID=503

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Fishbase Consortium, http://fishbase.org/summary/Cottus-extensus.html

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://dwrcdc.nr.utah.gov/rsgis2/Search/Display.asp?FlNm=cottexte

Bear Lake Blue Ribbon Fishery, Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, https://wildlife.utah.gov/hotspots/brwaterbody.php?id=41

Bear Lake Sculpin – Cottus extensus, Idaho Fish & Game, https://idfg.idaho.gov/ifwis/cwcs/pdf/Bear%20Lake%20Sculpin.pdf

The Logan River June Bug

“Darling, I’m having a struggle with the trout. They are too much for me in the swift, rushing river. I lose ‘em. Went out yesterday… and lost two—one a large fish. The ‘June Bugs’ – a red bodied insect, as big as the biggest grasshopper you ever saw, fall from the leaves on to the river and are such large juicy mouthfuls that the trout have abundant food, and don’t care much for a fly.”1

Frederick Jackson Turner c 1890 Public Domain Courtesy Wikipedia
Frederick Jackson Turner
c 1890
Public Domain
Courtesy Wikipedia
That is an excerpt from a letter from U.S. historian and novice fly angler Frederick Jackson Turner. He was writing to his wife Caroline Mae on June 20, 1924, while visiting Utah Agricultural College in Logan. Turner didn’t know it at the time, but the large red-bodied “June Bugs” were actually salmonflies, a prehistoric-looking stonefly from the genus Pteronarcys. Turner was also unaware that his letter would become the earliest written record showing that salmonflies were once abundant in the Logan River.

Salmonflies are a type of large stonefly that live in many western rivers and are often called “rock rollers” or “shredders” because they hide under boulders and gorge themselves on leaf litter until early summer when they crawl out from under the rocks, shed their exoskeleton, and clumsily fly around hoping to bump into a mate. These bugs love cold, clean, oxygenated water, all of which are hallmarks of the Logan River. Existing records show that salmonflies were well established on the Logan River until at least 1951, after which time something wiped them out. The last time anyone saw a Pteronarcys on the Logan River was September 7, 1966, near Mendon Bridge.2

Salmon fly; Photographer unknown; 1967 Yellowstone Photo Collection Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Salmon fly;
Photographer unknown;
1967
Yellowstone Photo Collection
Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
In 2001, the “Disappearance of the Salmonflies,” as it’s now known among bug enthusiasts, sparked the curiosity of Mark Vinson, former director of the Utah State University National Aquatic Monitoring Center, aka the “USU Bug Lab.” Vinson decided to compare the Logan River to nearby Blacksmith Fork River, which continues to support a healthy population of salmonflies. Vinson observed that the absence of salmonflies in the Logan River was one of the few differences between the invertebrate faunas in the two streams. He studied discharge and water temperature regimes between the two and found they were also similar and had not changed since the 1960s. He wrote, “Overall, the Logan River within Logan Canyon remains a beautiful stream and habitat, and water quality conditions have not changed much since 1960, at least not enough to prevent salmonflies from living in the river.”3 To test his observations Vinson decided to try and recolonize the Logan River with salmonflies from the Blacksmith Fork River. Between 2004 and 2007 volunteers relocated thousands of salmonflies in the hope they would once again call the Logan River home. Out of the thousands of immigrant stoneflies, Vinson only found two that survived longer than one year. The massive relocation effort was a bust, and proved that there was still something about the Logan River that these critters didn’t like.

Each semester, watershed science students at Utah State University don leaky waders and wander up Logan Canyon to conduct aquatic invertebrate sampling. I was once one of those bright-eyed students, standing in the Logan River with a kick-net and dreams of finding the long-lost Pteronarcys. I never found one. Over the years, researchers have ruled out obvious factors like water quality, stream temperature, or habitat, that might limit salmonfly reproduction on the Logan River. Chemical spills and sagebrush abatement in Logan Canyon during the 1950s may have originally contributed to the bugs’ demise, but doesn’t explain why they can’t survive for long in the river today. Of course, anglers have their own ideas about what going on, including tales of a giant Sasquatch urinating in the river somewhere near Rick’s Spring.

Even today the plot thickens. Continued aquatic invertebrate sampling by the Bug Lab has shown that salmonflies are also absent from Left Hand Fork of Blacksmith Fork River as well as upper Rock Creek.4 Incredibly, both of these streams are tributaries to the main stem Blacksmith Fork River, which is full of salmonflies. This anomaly has everyone scratching their heads. All anyone can say for certain is that some variable, biotic or abiotic, or possibly even “Sasquatch-iotic” is keeping salmonflies from populating these two tributaries. Could it be the same variable that’s keeping Frederick Jackson Turner’s “June Bugs” from reclaiming the Logan River? The answer to this question, along with whether Turner ever did land a trout, has yet to be answered.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Ray A. Billington, “Frederick Jackson Turner and ‘Logan’s National Summer School,’ 1924,” Utah Historical Quarterly 37, no. 3 (1969): 327.
2. Nancy A. Erman, “Occurrence and Distribution of Invertebrates in Lower Logan River” (master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1968), 17. Available online at http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1333&context=etd
3. Mark Vinson, “A short history of Pteronarcys californica and Pteronarcella badia in the Logan River, Cache County, Utah.” January 14, 2008. Available online at https://www.usu.edu/buglab/Content/Files/salmonfly%20history.pdf
4. Phone conversation with Joe Kotynek, USU Bug Lab Taxonomist, January 24, 2017.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy Wikipedia (Public Domain) and
Photo: Courtesy NPS and Yellowstone Association
Text: Brad Hansen

Additional Reading

Logan River Salmonfly Disappearance, USU Buglab Archived Projects, http://www.usu.edu/buglab/Projects/ArchivedProjects/

Albert Perry Rockwood

Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
Albert P. Rockwood, Public Domain, courtesy Wikimedia
On May 12, 1871, Albert Perry Rockwood, the recently appointed Territorial Fish Superintendent of Utah, arrived at Silver Creek, a small tributary of the Weber River near present-day Rockport Reservoir. After setting up camp, Rockwood went to work catching native Bonneville cutthroat trout, which he placed in crates and milk cartons and loaded on wagons bound for Salt Lake City. This was no vacation. Rockwood was on official business on behalf of Brigham Young and the newly created Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association, Utah’s first fish-culture company. Rockwood’s mission was to transport as many live cutthroat as possible to rearing ponds in Salt Lake City, get them to spawn, then put the fry in Utah Lake. The project didn’t go as planned. Many of the fish died from lack of oxygen in the cramped storing crates, the bigger fish ate the smaller fish, and the cutthroat that made it into the rearing ponds alive wouldn’t spawn.1

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Although Rockwood didn’t have much success farming native trout, his subsequent efforts with fish stocking yielded fruit. After some consideration, he decided that the answer to Utah’s declining trout populations was not to replace dying native trout with more native trout, but rather import exotic fish species and let them fill in. It helped that he had the support of the Mormon Church, which funded his fish stocking escapades through Zion’s Cooperative Fish Association. Over the pulpit, Mormon leaders encouraged members to do their part and declared fish “to possess brain making material to a greater extent than any other animal food.” They even went so far as to approve the use of prison inmates to build fish ponds near what is today Sugarhouse Park.2

During his time as Territorial Fish Superintendent, Rockwood experimented with American shad, black bullhead catfish, king salmon, Sebago salmon, eastern brook trout, lake whitefish, lobsters, oysters, American eel, Asian carp and a host of other species.3 Many of the exotics came from Rockwood’s east coast friends, including the biblical looking Seth Green and pragmatic Spencer Fullerton Baird, Director of the newly created U.S. Fish Commission. Today we might think some of Rockwood’s experiments cruel, like the time he attempted to farm lobsters and oysters in the Great Salt Lake, but at the time it was cutting edge fish culture.

On the surface it is obvious Rockwood was attempting to improve Utah’s fisheries, whatever that may have looked like at the time. However, if you look closer you can also see a man trying to make Utah into something more familiar. Historians have long established that throughout the American West, settlers introduced nonnative plants, animals, and fishes in an attempt to make the foreign and wild landscape into something domestic and manageable. It’s not surprising, then, that Rockwood, an East Coast transplant from Massachusetts, would bring to Utah many of the fish he had caught back home. Rivers and lakes were laboratories, not ecosystems, and in the end, if a fish survived, Rockwood believed it meant God wanted it there.

Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Bonneville Cutthroat Trout Courtesy & Copyright Brad Hansen, Photographer
Today, in a twist of irony, our values have moved toward valuing natives over nonnatives, and we’re trying to quickly undo what Rockwood and others did. For example, millions of dollars are being spent to remove carp from Utah Lake and restore Bonneville cutthroat to the tributaries of the Weber River, those same tributaries where Rockwood camped and caught trout 145 years ago. I think we are doing right by the world, but in his time, so did Albert Perry Rockwood.4 And in case you’re wondering, Rockwood eventually solved the mystery of the cutthroat trout that would not spawn. In his notes he wrote: “I was on the headwaters before the females arrived, consequently, caught nothing but male fish…This solves the problem, why my trout did not spawn…”5

For Wild About Utah this is Brad Hansen.

Footnotes:
1. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102.
Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878 (Salt Lake City: J.W. Pike, Public Printer), 97-110.
2. Ibid.
3. Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Second Session, for the Year 1876 (Salt Lake City: David O. Calder, Public Printer, 1876), 101-102; Boris Popov, “The Introduced Fishes, Game Birds, and Game and Fur-Bearing Mammals of Utah” (Master’s thesis, Utah State University, 1949), 38-77; Journals of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah, Twenty-Third Session, for the Year 1878, 97-110.
4. Anders Halverson, An Entirely Synthetic Fish: How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2010), 187.
5. Ibid, 102-103.

Credits:
Photo: Courtesy and copyright Brad Hansen
Text: Brad Hansen

Sources & Additional Reading

Hansen, Bradley Paul, “An Environmental History of the Bear River Range, 1860-1910” (2013). All Graduate Theses and Dissertations. 1724. http://digitalcommons.usu.edu/etd/1724/

Bonneville cutthroat trout, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Endangered Species of the Mountain Prairie Region https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/species/fish/bct/index.htm

June Sucker, US Fish and Wildlife Service, ECOS Environmental Conservation Online System, http://ecos.fws.gov/ecp0/profile/speciesProfile?spcode=E050

DuHadway, Kate, Groups continue effort to re-establish Bonneville cutthroat trout in Logan River tributary, HJ News, 22 June 2012, http://news.hjnews.com/features/groups-continue-effort-to-re-establish-bonneville-cutthroat-trout-in/article_99b87942-bbd5-11e1-ae71-0019bb2963f4.html