Kaul: Fishing season has arrived

I have used a couple of traditional sporting events over the years as a sign to start thinking about the upcoming fishing season. Now that March Madness and the Masters Tournament are over, it is time to get ready to fish. Many of us will dig out the pile of fishing gear, realizing that we have again violated our pledge to clean and repair the gear in the fall before storing it for the winter. A series of abnormally warm spring days has created a lot of open water on many of our local streams, prompting us to grab the gear in its present state of serviceability and head to the nearest fishing hole. Taking advantage of short periods of warm spring days and being the first to fish some of the good water can pay big dividends. It looks like we may have a decent spring fishing hiatus before the run-off starts, so I would highly recommend taking advantage of this infrequent fishing opportunity.

Taking a wider view of the upcoming season, there are some variables that could affect fishing conditions. I mention in my previous article that fish catching may be slimmer on some of our streams due to last summer’s water conditions. The low flows and high water temperatures had an adverse impact on fish reproduction and mortality. Another detrimental impact could be the amount of increased fishing pressure, due in part, to the explosion of summer visitors to our county. I believe these issues will be magnified this season, causing many associated with sport fishing to think about an increase in fishery management. Basically, we are looking at a supply and demand situation. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department (WG&F) has the responsibility of making sure there is an adequate supply of game fish in the state waterways. They fulfill this requirement by stocking selected bodies of water with game fish produced in state hatcheries. They also manage other bodies of water as wild trout fisheries. These streams are inhabited by fish born in this water and reproduce in sufficient numbers to maintain an adequate fish supply. Obviously, there are ups and down in the demand and supply equation, but WG&F has historically done a decent job of maintaining a good balance. On the demand side, as I mentioned above, we are currently experiencing a significant spike in volume. Dealing with the additional demand and trying to balance it with supply will require new management techniques.

Let’s take a look at the issue of increased fishing pressure on our local rivers and streams. During the past decade there has been a steady increase in boat traffic on the Green and New Fork rivers, but the numbers have ballooned in the past couple of seasons, causing concern about the impact on the fishery. Commercial fishing outfitters and guides have discussed ways to manage the increased demand and sought assistance from local legislators and federal governmental agencies. Commercial operators are delighted with the demand surge; however, they are in a service business and must deliver some semblance of producing hook-ups of game fish during a trip. If last season was an indicator, the fish supply in general was below par. If the fishery continues to decline, the clients will not return, lowering demand, which will allow the supply of fish to build back up. This is not a good way to manage our recreational fishing industry. The other way to manage demand is to regulate use of the rivers. This is a difficult task because you would have to get consensus among groups such as commercial operators, governmental agencies, landowners and the general public. Each entity would have to give up something to make this management technique work. Then the big issue to resolve is who will oversee this demand management program.

Management of demand is difficult, so possibly we should look at increasing supply to meet the demand. Bolstering the supply of fish also has some challenging requirements. Man-hours must be spent evaluating current fishery population, determining stream carrying capacities and deciding which stream to plant or maintain as wild trout habitat. Consideration must also be given to the cost of increasing hatchery production and the negative impacts on current conservation and restoration programs that WG&F are promoting. There are other issues that also need to be addressed with increasing supply, like the overall cost to the state to produce a constant supply of game fish to satisfy paying anglers and the general public fishers. There is also an intrinsic issue; do we want to pursue a strategy for many of our popular streams where hatchery fish are planted annually to satisfy demand, which is called a “put-and-take fishery”? Increasing the supply of game fish is no cakewalk.

I am playing the devil’s advocate by raising the above issues. Possibly, we can bump along, doing what we now do with what we have. Maybe the demand will decline due to lack of interest or we are hit with an economic pandemic. The prolonged drought condition may take a turn for the better and our natural fishery reproduction will make a dramatic comeback. Falling short of the above possibilities, my hope is that some of our young, smart people recognize that there is a problem and find a way to deal with it. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department, who has the mission of maintaining a quality fishery throughout the state must be alert to the effects of additional fishing pressures on various waterways and be involved with developing strategies to deal with supply and demand issues.

Ending on a positive note, I say again, because we are fortunate to reside at the headwaters of many fine rivers and streams, we will have decent fishing here in Sublette County again this season.

Remember there is no bad fishin’!!!