For those who plan to fish for trout at Lee’s Ferry in 2003, there have been a few regulation changes designed to improve the harvesting of more non-trophy size rainbow trout.
The Arizona Game and Fish Commission on Oct. 19 adopted a variety of fishing regulation changes for the 2003 year, including modifications at Lee’s Ferry.
Fisheries Chief Larry Riley told the Game and Fish Commission that any regulation change at the fishery at the river entrance to the Grand Canyon is by its very nature a source of controversy — a lot of different factions have strong ideas and philosophies when it comes to the fishery, and the adjacent Grand Canyon river ecosystem.
Despite all those varying opinions, there were no voices raised at the commission meeting in opposition to the proposal to increase the harvest of smaller trout to allow for better grow outs of trophy fish.
The fishing regulation changes adopted for Lee’s Ferry starting in 2003 include:
o Increasing the bag limit and reducing the maximum size limit for trout. From the Colorado River from the Glen Canyon Dam to the upstream end of the Paria riffle, trout over 12 inches can’t be possessed starting Jan. 1. The daily bag limit will be four trout per day and eight trout total in possession. Trout taken from this area shall be killed immediately and retained as part of the bag limit, or immediately released. Current regulations for this reach of river are a 16-inch maximum size with two trout per day and a four-trout total possession limit.
o The special regulation boundary for the Lee’s Ferry "Blue Ribbon" trout fishery has been moved from the Marble Canyon Bridge upstream to the upstream end of the Paria riffle.
Riley explained that the blue ribbon rainbow trout fishery known as Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River has long been a controversial fishery due to river flows, native fish concerns and variable quality of the fishery.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, mean fish size was above 400mm, but now mean fish size is below 300mm. Fisheries management of Lee’s Ferry has evolved from a put-and-take strategy in the 1970s to current regulatory programs that are more consistent with "blue ribbon" fishery concepts (for example, restrictions on harvest, maximum size limit and allowance of only barbless artificial lures and flies).
Riley said that most management schemes implemented thus far have been aimed at producing quality angling experience, such as preserving high standing stocks of healthy, catchable, wild-spawned fish with restrictions on take of "trophy" sized fish.
"However, high levels of natural reproduction, survival of fry and subsequent abundance of adult fish associated with stabilized flows in the 1990s have led to increasing numbers of trout, declining fish growth rates, a surplus of small fish less than 12 inches long, and diminished body condition," Riley said. "These problems have been especially pronounced during recent years when dam discharge and subsequent fish habitat and food quantities have declined."
Given the preponderance of small fish currently in the system, officials said the changes were needed to provide some new recreational harvest opportunities that have not existed at Lee’s Ferry for some time and to help alleviate problems stemming from high trout densities.
The Glen Canyon Dam Adaptive Management Program, developed by multiple agencies including the department, has set trout objectives for the Colorado River stretch from Glen Canyon Dam to the Paria River. These objectives include maintaining and managing rainbow trout numbers for 100,000 age 2-plus fish.
In 2000 the Lee’s Ferry rainbow trout population was estimated at 256,000 age 2-plus fish, suggesting the population had more than doubled since the early 1990s.
As is typical with dense populations of trout, the data shows that since 1994 both condition factor (relative plumpness of fish) and proportional stock density (the proportion of fish 16 inches and larger) within the population have steadily decreased.
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