Gillnetting Operation Targets
by Jerry Painter
For the second year in a row, Stanley Lake, west of Challis in central Idaho will be the scene of a 10-day gillnetting operation targeting lake trout.
As soon as the ice comes off the lake, a professional gillnetting crew based in Wisconsin will begin working to remove hundreds of lake trout.
The project hopes to remove all the fertile lake trout from the lake and replace them with sterile lake trout to preserve the lake trout fishery and prevent the potential of the predatory fish from migrating to nearby lakes and threatening endangered sockeye salmon.
"It's been very successful," said Greg Schoby, an Idaho Fish and Game fisheries biologist with the Salmon regional office about the gillnetting efforts started last spring. "We got somewhere between 55% and 75% of the population out."
He said Fish and Game estimated the maximum lake trout population in Stanley Lake at close to 1,000 fish. Last year's gillnetting removed 563 lake trout.
Schoby said the gillnetting operation is planned through 2022 when they hope to have all the fertile lake trout removed.
He said lake trout are mostly predatory fish that feed on smaller fish, such as kokanee salmon and young sockeye. The danger is that the lake trout in Stanley Lake could migrate into critical lakes such as Redfish Lake and other key salmon and steelhead nursery lakes where Fish and Game and other agencies are conducting a massive rescue mission to save nearly extinct Idaho sockeye salmon. All of the lakes are connected with outlet streams that flow into the Salmon River.
"In other lake and river systems across the West, lake trout have also migrated long distances and colonized connected lakes," Schoby said. "Lake trout in Stanley Lake are currently reproducing, and therefore pose a risk to establishing populations in nearby waters."
But some anglers are quite fond of catching lake trout in Stanley Lake.
Representatives of all the stakeholders -- anglers, guides, business owners, the Forest Service and biologists -- gathered to form the Stanley Lake advisory committee in 2017. After several meetings, they settled on a plan that would prevent the lake trout problem and still keep the dedicated lake trout anglers happy.
"The both ends of the spectrum (the committee) talked about is to do nothing and stick your head in the sand, or do you completely eradicate the lake trout population," Schoby said. "People weren't really excited about either one of those options. We fell in the middle to remove the fertile ones and replace them with sterile fish. With just a sterile population, that risk of them establishing in other lakes is minimized."
Funding for the project is provided by a grant from the Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery Fund.
About 800 sterile hatchery lake trout in the 10- to 12-inch size were stocked in the lake last fall. To replace the trophy-sized fish removed through gillnetting, Fish and Game gathered mature sterile lake trout from Bear Lake to replant in Stanley Lake. The process will be repeated this year. Schoby said gillnetting operations will sort out the hatchery and mature sterile fish and place them back into the lake.
"(Fish and Game) has been stocking sterile lake trout in Bear Lake since 2003," Schoby said. "So there's fish in (Bear Lake) that are sterile pushing 20 years old. We're looking to get about 400 of those fish to replace the ones we've moved out of Stanley to provide that trophy angling opportunity."
Fish and Game plans to move the Bear Lake fish into Stanley Lake in June.
Besides lake trout, Stanley Lake also boasts a population of kokanee, brook trout and is stocked with several thousand rainbows each summer.
Schoby said 15,000 juvenile lake trout were stocked in Stanley Lake in 1975, as part of an effort to broaden the sport fishery.
Count the Fish, 1977-2014, Salmon Recovery Efforts by GAO
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