Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Kokanee season

     I'm fully immersed in chasing kokanee eggs at the moment. Things are not looking quite as rosy this year statewide, and we have a good chance of coming up a bit short. By this date last year, Blue Mesa had produced 2.5 million already; prior to today, they were sitting at right about half of that, at 1.2 million. I think it's safe to say that they're not going to have another record-breaking year. Hopefully I'm wrong about that.
     Up here, things are looking decidedly worse. As for Williams Fork, all our indicators tell us that whatever run takes place will be very weak. My best estimation is that we would get about half the eggs we got in 2011 - which would be approximately 300K. That's the best-case scenario. That operation is extremely labor-intensive. If you've never seen it, I have to build an electric barrier in the river to stop upstream migration, which means that I have to hire a dedicated person to live in a camper there and monitor the thing around the clock. 300,000 eggs is not worth that much expense and manpower. So, we're not putting the trap in at WF this year. The buoy line is in and the fishing closure is in effect, but the purpose of that is to allow us to get our disease sample. We have to keep a disease history current to continue to use it as an egg source in the future. That involves getting ovarian fluids and a couple other biopsies from 60 females. Once we have that, we'll pull the buoy line. Hopefully that will happen by the 25th. We haven't seen a fish running there yet. My first year here, 2007, we took 4.5 million eggs from Williams Fork. Crazy how times change.
     Granby is not looking much better. Last year, we scraped and scraped for 800,000 eggs. That was the first time in over a decade that Granby did not provide enough eggs for itself - we need 1.2 million there to break even. Our projections for this year suggest a continued decline, and I will feel lucky if we get half a million there.
     It's also a weird year for Granby with the water regime. When the floods started happening around September 11, the water entities immediately stopped taking water through the tunnels to the east slope. There hasn't been any water going through the Adams, Moffat, or Roberts tunnels since the floods. Because of that, all of a sudden we've got a lot more water in certain places where there is never water this time of year. One of those places is below Shadow Mountain dam. It's sitting at 200 CFS right now, when normally at this time of year they're releasing 40. The only control they have on the elevations of Grand and Shadow right now is releases out of Shadow Mountain dam. Normally there is a lot of water going through the Adams Tunnel this time of year. At one brief point in September, Shadow dam was spilling 1600 CFS. Our whole kokanee trap system there is designed to handle 40 CFS, and it's always a very controlled, steady situation, except for this year. We're way late on getting a trap in the river there. So, tomorrow they're going to cut releases for us for a few hours while we jump in the river and get a trap built that can handle 200-300 CFS. When we're done they'll crank it back up and we'll stand there with our fingers crossed hoping that it holds. It's a good problem to have; I shouldn't complain.
     The one bright spot in this neighborhood is Wolford. We have every reason to believe that I'll take just as many eggs there this year as I did last year - 1.9 million. Over the past year we built a new and improved Merwin trap which corrected some of the design flaws of the original one that we used. We set it yesterday, and this morning there were 100 or so kokes in it. That's a good sign. We'll start taking eggs there on Monday, and we'll be taking every egg we can get out of Wolford. Our biggest day there last year was November 20, so we'll be sticking with it for a while, and in fact Wolford will probably be the lake that saves our bacon for kokanee up here.
     Here is the disturbing trend for kokanee in Colorado: fewer and fewer lakes are able to support them. My mantra for kokanee the past few years has been "Competitors, Predators, and Parasites." That is, I'm not aware of a single lake in the state with a viable kokanee population that has all three of those things. In my time here, I've seen both Williams Fork and Green Mountain go from one to two, and the kokanee populations at both those lakes have taken a major hit. The only lake I've got left with none of those three things is Wolford - assuming we can stay on top of the pike population there. If the pike take off, or gill lice were to get into Wolford, I'm afraid we'd be done with kokanee in this area. We keep turning away from problem reservoirs as egg sources, and it feels an awful lot like we're backed into a corner now.


  1. Below the Shadow Mtn dam could use the flush. The rock snot down there was overwhelming earlier in the summer.

  2. Hopefully Wolford will continue to produce. I am planning on heading up there the end of the month with my son again to lend a hand with the egg collection.

    Do you see the low numbers as being cyclic or do you think we are on a permanent downward trend for koke's?