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Gusher — After several years of unsure water conditions because of repair work on its dam, the future of fishing at Cottonwood Reservoir is looking brighter than ever.
These tiny tiger muskies should be more than 40 inches long in just a few years.
The dam has been repaired, and fisheries biologists with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (DWR) have stocked smallmouth bass and tiger muskie into this reservoir located in the desert north of Gusher.
Gusher is in northeastern Utah.
"We took 323 smallmouth bass from Flaming Gorge, and about 2,000 tiger muskie fingerlings from Nebraska, and stocked them in the reservoir in July," says Garn Birchell, DWR biologist.
The tiger muskie were only a few inches long when the biologists stocked them, but they should grow quickly in Cottonwood's warm waters. "Within a year, they should be 12 to 18 inches long. They'll become the top predator in the reservoir," Birchell says.
Biologists also placed smallmouth bass from Flaming Gorge Reservoir into Cottonwood to reestablish its bass population. The bass placed in the reservoir in July will be the stock that starts a future generation of smallmouth bass in the reservoir.
"We're hoping to jumpstart the smallmouth bass fishery in Cottonwood by stocking broodstock [sexually mature fish kept separate for breeding purposes] from Flaming Gorge," says Roger Schneidervin, DWR regional aquatics manger. "Flaming Gorge has become a valuable source for smallmouth brood stock. We transplant these fish into other reservoirs [to jumpstart their populations].
"The smallmouth bass population in Flaming Gorge only grows about an inch a year, but it has been certified as 'disease free,' so we're able to collect and move them throughout the state," Schneidervin says. "We target the smaller smallmouth for removal because they're plentiful and easier to transport."
Schneidervin says even though the smallmouth bass are small in size, they're big in breeding potential.
"By taking these small fish from the Gorge, we save the valuable larger fish in the reservoir for anglers to catch, remove some of the competition for limited food resources and provide the fisheries we place the fish in with mature fish that have many years of breeding left."
Schneidervin says Cottonwood is a perfect reservoir for smallmouth bass and tiger muskie.
"Cottonwood is lower in elevation than Flaming Gorge, so the water is warmer. That will give the smallmouth bass a longer growing season," he says. "The reservoir has also plenty of forage, so the fish we planted will grow much faster and larger, making them even more valuable breeders."
Schneidervin encourages anglers to release the smallmouth bass they catch. "We only stocked 323 fish, so the more time anglers leave them in the reservoir to be the brood stock for future generations, the faster the population will grow."
All tiger muskies less than 40 inches in length must be released.
"It will take the tiger muskie several years to reach the 40-inch legal limit," Birchell says. "During that time, we're hoping they can make a dent in the non-native fish populations that are in the reservoir. Carp, white suckers, black bullheads, green sunfish and a few other non-native species have moved into the reservoir from canals."
Birchell says plenty of these non-native fish are in the reservoir. "They'll make good forage for both the tigers and the smallmouth bass," he says. "By introducing these two non-native predators, we'll reduce the non-native fish in the reservoir while providing two potentially great fisheries for anglers."
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