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Lake: Blue Mesa Reservoir
Fish: Brown Trout

Blue Mesa Brown Trout

Post By: GSOutfitters      Posted: 2/27/2020 4:38:05 PM     Points: 118    
There has been some recent discussion on the current condition of Brown Trout in Blue Mesa. I'd love to hear some theories. Here's mine..
Here's a great series of numbers that, in my opinion, back up the theory that the brown trout fishery is going in a downward spiral.
Every year, there is a fishing tournament on Blue Mesa the 1st weekend in May (except last year it was the 1st weekend in June). Brown trout are 95% of the species weighed in by the top 10 placing teams in that tourney every year.
Here's the winning weights of each of the last 5 years (excluding last year because of the outlying dates)
This is an 8 fish total weight, and yes, browns are all 8 fish in these weights...(2013 prior years were 4 fish totals, so not included as this shows a better average with 8 fish total)
2014 - 20.03
2015 - 19.16
2016 - 18.44
2017 - 17.06
2018 - 15.61
As you can see, the weights are consistently going down year after year = not good!
My theory is two parts...
1) The Feds stock rainbows in this lake, not the state (for the most part)
They went from stocking fingerling rainbows from the 70's until early 2000's to now stocking "catch-able" rainbows (8-10in) = Lower volume of a viable prey source
2) Lake trout removal = Higher perch numbers
Perch schools are incredible crawdad vacuums = lower available secondary prey source for browns
(and catch-able rainbows also now eat a higher percentage of crawdads)

We brought this info to Dan, our local CPW biologist. He was successful in getting several truck loads of overstock hatchery rainbow fingerling last year and it is showing! Last fall and this winter, the browns are looking slightly better. Hopefully this can continue and help boost our browns back to the good ol' days
 Reply by: Wmdunker      Posted: Feb. 27, 4:51:24 PM     Points: 387    
Nice to have some data to back up a theory and a positive response from CPW fisheries guy. Good work.
 Reply by: Digginjiggin      Posted: Feb. 27, 5:10:03 PM     Points: 307    
Like WD, I applaud your efforts to restore the wonderful Salmo trutta back to their healthy former populations and reproductive health in order to keep a self sustaining ďwildĒ population of incredible fish.

And Good on Dan for being pro-active as well.
 Reply by: devon234      Posted: Feb. 27, 8:39:24 PM     Points: 168    
browns are one of my favorite fish to catch. I have never fished blue mesa but I fish granby a lot and they definitely like there fingerling rainbows especially in spring and crawdads which for most of the year at granby that is there main food source along with suckers and other trout. I would think they would eat some of the perch in blue mesa. people give trout crap for being food for other fish but browns are very aggressive and just as predatory as walleyes or pike. a fun fish to catch for sure. its harder to catch 5 plus pound browns than just about any other fish. it could be that there population is just going in cycles but the fingerling rainbow definitely help there condition.
 Reply by: Pathway      Posted: Feb. 29, 10:34:18 AM     Points: 534    
When the feds stocked a million 4 inch rainbows the browns had a great oily food source and grew rapidly during the warm water months. There is no food source with stockable rainbows.
 Reply by: Pathway      Posted: Feb. 29, 8:14:36 PM     Points: 534    
The word I mint to use was catchable, not stockable.
 Reply by: rkhancock      Posted: Mar. 1, 8:40:27 AM     Points: 24616    
This is very interesting data. I agree that the brown population quality may be diminishing but the outlying data cannot be ignored. This is because every population will have its ebbs and flows based on the natural prey available (crawdads, perch, suckers, juvenile wild trout). I would be very interested to see data on how the ebbs and flows of the brown populations follow the quantities of the wild prey available.

So my theory is that Blue Mesa is going through its normal ebbs and flows. I believe healthy fisheries have the most abundant natural forage. And I think blue mesa is healthy its just that the amount of prey available can vary year to year affecting the brown trout quality.
 Reply by: Fishneveryweek      Posted: Mar. 1, 2:37:50 PM     Points: 33    
The problem with that theory is that the data quoted above have been going in one direction each year - no ups and downs so far. Also, the problem why the less rainbow fry to eat is questionable is that the browns still have very red meat, indicating that they are getting lots of crayfish. My theory is as was discussed in the last thread that many browns are getting killed in gill nets. The statistics above would look like that from this cause, just like we all know it does for the lakers. Perch are pretty good feed for the browns, too - just ask any laker who is stuffed with them. Additionally, look at lakes where there are browns and perch, like Rifle Gap before all the gill netting. The browns got pretty fat off of the perch back then, although they did not have as red a meat as in Blue, since there wasn't as many crayfish. Back then in Rifle Gap, too, they were probably stocking only catchable rainbows, as opposed to fry, given the presence of pike. Another point to note is that Blue browns get a pretty good feast of kokanee fry each year from the Gunny, so they like hanging out by the Lake Fork Bridge.
 Reply by: Perca      Posted: Mar. 1, 6:27:16 PM     Points: 0    
I think many of us can agree that BM is not what we remember it to be, but I donít see cessation if the netting program to be a solution to the reduced brown trout size. Some selfish @&$? illegally introduced perch into the lake in presumably the 1990ís. By the mid 2000s, perch were established throughout the lake. This occurred prior to the netting. If the pre netting lake trout population couldnít control the perch numbers, why would you expect lake trout to control the perch numbers now? Iíve cleaned 40-45 lake trout from BM this winter and found 0.0 perch in them. I usually fish the middle or west ends of the lake, so Iím not fishing where many of the perch are, but many of the lake trout also arenít living where the perch are either. In addition, if the nets are indeed killing lots of browns, adding more brown trout to a lake with a limited food supply, as indicated by the presence of the typically skinny browns, is only going to compound the problem. More mouths competing for the same amount of food is going to equal smaller fish, not bigger. I have no idea if stocking fingerling rainbows for the purposes of brown trout food is a financially viable option going forward. Even if it is, that doesnít address the overriding issue of an over abundance of small lake trout which is why the netting program began. Lots of moving parts to consider.
 Reply by: Mud      Posted: Mar. 2, 12:51:13 AM     Points: 3    
I highly doubt the problem is net kill. There are a whole lot of skinny brown trout in the lake, I would say the majority of browns are snakes. Their guts, at least in the areas I fish, normally have nothing but small crayfish in them.It really seems to me it's a forage issue just due to how skinny they mostly are. Overpopulation of smaller individuals is possible, the lake is absolutely thick with them.
 Reply by: Pathway      Posted: Mar. 2, 8:17:31 AM     Points: 534    
The perch have nothing to do with the condition of brown trout in Blue. Once again if you quit stocking 1,000,000 4 inch rainbows as a food source for browns, their quality will be greatly reduced.