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Science and Innovations

Arizona Agencies Will Pay Anglers To Catch Brown Trout At Lees Ferry

National Park Service

Lees Ferry on the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam is a world-famous rainbow trout fishery. But in recent years a different nonnative fish, the brown trout, has started to grow in numbers. The brown trout is a predatory fish that gobbles up not only the rainbows but also endangered native species in the Grand Canyon. Now, state and federal wildlife agencies have come up with a plan to reduce their numbers. They’re paying people to go fishing. Starting today, anglers can earn 25 dollars a head for catching and harvesting brown trout. KNAU’s Melissa Sevigny spoke with Ken Hyde, chief of science at Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, about the new incentive program.

Tell me why brown trout are a concern at the Lees Ferry fishery?

The biggest concern is since about 2014 they’ve started reproducing down there and we’re really seen their numbers jump… They’re highly mobile, and we’re afraid especially some of the subadults and the adults will started getting crowded and will move downriver. Of course in Grand Canyon we have two endangered species, the humpback chub and the razorback sucker, and then there’s quite a few other native fish species down there that are doing quite well right now, that would not do near as well if a large predator like brown trout all of a sudden showed up. Brown trout tend to eat primarily other fish, once they become a subadult and adult. Unlike rainbow trout which will continue to rise to flies and eat quite a bit of aquatic insects, brown trout really convert over and they mostly eat other fish.

So if angler wants to try to participate, what do they need to know?

They need to follow all of the Arizona Game and Fish fishing regulations. This stretch of the river from the dam down to the Paria Riffle has its own set of regulations, primarily to protect and manage the rainbow trout…  The fishing requirements down there is no live bait, and if they’re using lures, even lures with the treble hooks on them, those need to be barbless….  They can catch unlimited numbers of brown trout. To participate, they catch the fish, they harvest them, and put the fish head and insides, the entrails, into a bag and fill out a pretty simple data card that gives us a little more scientific information… All of the fish will be turned in at the Navajo Bridge Interpretive Center… We made a funky freezer that has like a mailbox drop in… Once a month we’ll tally all the fish that are caught and then send a check, or the Glen Canyon Conservancy, one of our partners, will send a check for that month.

If the incentive program isn’t as effective as you hoped it would be, what are the next steps to get rid of this fish?

We’re hoping this is really successful became the next set of tools have a little more impact on the environment and a lot more concerns from the public and from the tribes. A couple of things that would be considered is you can go in about the time the fish are spawning, and stir the gravels up so the fish eggs float out and downriver and then predators eat those. That’s one option. The other option is mechanical harvesting, where you’re going in and using electrofishing and trying to remove those fish. Those are a lot more intensive, the public cannot participate in those, and can be quite a bit more costly.

For people who are familiar for fishing for rainbow trout but haven’t fished for brown trout before, do you have any tips?

We are going to be gathering some information on where these are caught the most, and everything else, but it’s a totally brand new program, and just a few anglers have been concentering on them, so I can’t tell you the best fishing hole, but I can tell you there are some nice fish in the twenty-inch range out there, some brown trout, so you’ll hook on to some things that are going to run your line and give you a pretty fun fishing experience.

Ken Hyde, thank you so much for speaking with me.

You’re welcome, and I look forward to meeting a lot of the anglers who are going to participate.

More info, plus how to identify brown trout:

Melissa joined KNAU's team in 2015 to report on science, health, and the environment. Her work has appeared nationally on NPR and been featured on Science Friday. She grew up in Tucson, Arizona, where she fell in love with the ecology and geology of the Sonoran desert.
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