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Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout Update

Cathy and I just got home from 7 days up on Yellowstone Lake with all of you. What a great experience it was for us. I have never before been involved with such a great group of volunteers who freely gave of their time, their resources, and their energy to help save an imperiled species, the cutthroats of Yellowstone Lake.

Even in the face of great adversity (real lousy and even dangerous weather conditions), not one individual complained. Everyone pitched in. We got rained on, hailed on, lightning struck close by several times, the water was rough enough on three of the days to pound even the biggest of the boats, and several of you fought off boat problems to go wherever your boat would go to help. In spite of all of the hardships, every morning each of you had a smile on your face and were willing to face it all again with unbelievable enthusiasm.

The first two days were some of the worst conditions I have personally faced on the Lake and the fishing for lake trout was some of the slowest I have experienced. Yet, you persevered, and as I’ll report below; we ended with some pretty impressive numbers.

For those of you who couldn’t make it to the Lake at all and those who had to cut their participation short; I totally understand. Things come up. But I want you to know that I sincerely appreciate your intentions and your efforts to help.

So here’s the bottom line. We put in 72 hydro-acoustic telemetry tags into adult lake trout for the week. These are the tags that will be used to track the lake trout to their spawning grounds this fall. Not all were implanted into males as we hoped; but because of the difficult fishing conditions, we decided to put some of the tags into females that had well developed eggs. These females will most likely spawn this fall. The balance went into adult male lake trout as we intended. While 72 is a long way from our target of 180 tags, we should not be discouraged. The research team is currently planning a way to complete the task.

Here’s the breakdown of successful surgeries (tagging) by day.

  • Monday we had 14 fishing boats and 3 surgery boats out in terrible weather which limited us to only 2 successful surgeries.
  • Tuesday was similar, with 13 fishing boats and 3 surgery boats and only 2 successful surgeries.
  • On Wednesday, we finally had great weather and we found the fish. 11 fishing boats and only 2 surgery boats implanted 30 tags. Pat was on a gill netting boat and contributed 8 tags to the 30.
  • On Thursday, the boating conditions on the Lake turned bad again. 13 fishing boats and 2 surgery boats implanted 5 tags.
  • And the last day, Friday, was the bonanza. The weather was great, the Lake was calm, and the fishing was awesome! If you missed it, you really missed an incredible day. Only 6 fishing boats were able to go out and 2 surgery boats joined them. We went to the same area as on Wednesday (off Pelican Creek) and literally overwhelmed the Wyoming Game and Fish surgery boat until Nick and Pat were able to join them. In the first hour, almost every boat was lined up to hand off an adult lake trout. As the day progressed, a few had to leave to get home and the fishing slowed somewhat. However, by 4 pm and with only 3 fishing boats still out; we put in our final tag: 33 for the day. This was like hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth with 2 outs and the Worlds Series on the line. Amazing!
Here’s a couple additional statistics that show the tremendous effort that was exerted and the great results. By my calculations, we had a total of 19 different fishing boats out for one or more days. Five of these boats fished every day. A total of approximately 95 people went out on boats to help. The total tally of fish caught was 117 lake trout and 287 cutthroats. I may be a few short here as I don’t have all the daily boat logs. The biggest lake trout tagged was 29 1/2 inches long (by the Soltis boat on Wednesday but there were a number of 26 to 29 inch fish).

By the way, fish of this length range probably weigh 6-9 pounds. The largest reported cutthroat was by the Wiser boat at 27 inches (I hope Lew put a ruler on that one and took a picture). The total number of cutthroat caught is amazing since we were targeting lake trout, and many were in the 18-22 inch range. The smallest cutthroat was 10 inches which we love to see since most small cutthroat get eaten. By the way, Gregg Bierei on the Reed boat can claim the largest object hooked of the week as he hooked but didn’t land the Wiser boat downrigger. Maybe some of the rest of you have similar stories.

I can’t complete my report without giving a huge thanks to Xanterra, who provided some of the camp spaces, all the boat slips and two of their fishing boats for two days; to the Wyoming Game and Fish for supplying a surgery boat and crews; and to the National Park Service for the majority of the camp spaces and all of the dorm rooms, as well as the great support from Pat Bigelow and her staff.
T

he week was full of great stories, tremendous enthusiasm, many laughs and genuine concern for the resource. My thanks go out to all of you. If any of you have photos that you would like to share; please reply to all and attach your photos. I particularly want to see photos of some of those tremendous cutthroats. I’ve attached a few photos of the surgery that Alicia Viskoe took and one from her of the calm and beautiful conditions on Friday.

Dave Sweet
Yellowstone Lake Special Project Manager, Wyoming TU

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