Blue Mesa Reservoir: Lake Trout Update

Colorado Parks and Wildlife thanks anglers for helping manage lake trout at Blue Mesa Reservoir; no harvest incentive tournament in 2022.

After hosting two lake trout harvest incentive tournaments at Blue Mesa Reservoir in 2020 and 2021, Colorado Parks and Wildlife has documented that lake trout numbers are now at a more appropriate level at the reservoir and will suspend the cash-prize tournament in 2022.

CPW regularly monitors Blue Mesa Reservoir’s lake trout population, and the success of the two previous harvest incentive tournaments – which offered up a $10,000 cash prize purse – has helped aquatic biologists achieve their management goals of providing trophy lake trout opportunities for anglers while also protecting the kokanee salmon population.

Based on current numbers, a harvest incentive tournament was not recommended in 2022. CPW does still encourage anglers to harvest smaller lake trout to maintain numbers at desired levels. It is expected that tournaments will be held in future years with recommendations made annually based on lake trout and kokanee population monitoring. 

Small Lake Trout
Two successful lake trout harvest incentive tournaments at Blue Mesa Reservoir in 2020 and 2021 have helped CPW aquatic biologists manage the population of smaller lake trout that have the greatest impact on kokanee salmon abundance in the reservoir.

“Through the tournaments, we invited anglers to be part of the solution of controlling the lake trout population,” said CPW senior aquatic biologist John Alves. “We’re suspending it because the science shows we have reduced numbers of smaller lake trout while still maintaining opportunities for trophy lake trout.”

Lake trout abundance expanded significantly beginning in the early 1990s, when reservoir operations stabilized water levels during the time period when lake trout spawning and egg incubation occurred. This resulted in an expansion of the population through the late 2000s and significant predation on trout and salmon.

CPW aquatic biologists implemented harvest incentive tournaments in 2020 and 2021 in an effort to reduce the number of small lake trout. CPW research shows that smaller lake trout, those 24 inches or less, consume the most kokanee salmon, so the tournaments targeted lake trout only 24 inches or smaller.

“We appreciate anglers’ help in maintaining lake trout numbers at a level that allows for good survival of kokanee while continuing to provide opportunities for anglers to catch trophy lake trout,” said CPW aquatic biologist Dan Brauch. “Although numbers of small fish are lower now, continuing to harvest small lake trout will help us to keep the lake trout population at the right level into the future.”

Maintaining abundant kokanee supports quality-fishing opportunities for kokanee and provides a source of kokanee eggs for restocking needs at 26 waters in Colorado. Abundant kokanee are also essential for maintaining continued growth of trophy lake trout at Blue Mesa Reservoir.

Video: Colorado’s Kokanee Salmon Spawn

Brauch said the goal is for anglers to maintain a certain level of small lake trout harvest to keep the population in check. CPW will conduct an analysis in the summer of 2022 to make recommendations on the potential of bringing a tournament back in 2023. 

“We’re going to need to continue to monitor it yearly to determine the status of the lake trout population,” Alves said.

Written by John Livingston. John is the Southwest region public information officer for Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

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