Native fish in the West have been severely pummeled by lake trout and other invasive species for a hundred years. Don’t miss the great article by Steve Woodruff in the Winter edition of Trout Magazine.
Fast growing, long-lived populations of Salvelinus namaycush are decimating native fish populations in more than 200 lakes and watersheds around the west. Native trout have faced every challenge thrown at them for more than 10,000 years, but are no match for these voracious non-native predators.
The article highlights attempts to do something about the lake trout invasions in Yellowstone Lake, Lake Pend Oreille and in the Flathead Basin. In just a few years the native cutthroat spawning run in Clear Creek, tributary to Yellowstone Lake, has dropped from 50,000 fish to only about 500 today due to lake trout predation. In Flathead Lake, less than 3,000 native bull trout remain in our largest western freshwater lake. The lake trout population has more than doubled in the last 20 years under a feeble attempt to reduce lake trout numbers using only recreational angling. As crowded lake trout radiate out from Flathead Lake, we have lost native fish populations in 12 of our stronghold lakes including Swan Lake, which became a catch-and-release fishery for native bull trout for the first time this year due to lake trout predation.
There are some success stories. Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho is seeing a rebound in their native bull trout populations as well as a hopeful return of their popular kokanee fishery nearly decimated by lake trout. They have applied an aggressive lake trout netting program and a bounty system. It’s not a matter of wiping out lake trout in our western waters. Once they have established a foothold, lake trout are here to stay, but if we ignore the problem much longer and don’t make the attempt to reduce lake trout numbers and re-balance some of these important native fish waters, we face the very real danger of losing one of the West’s greatest genetic treasures, not to mention many dandy fishing opportunities.