There’s Something Fishy Going On

The Jordanelle Fishery Introduces Some Exciting New Species

In spite of previous efforts to manage the Jordanelle fishery, the stocked rainbow trout returns have been in a steady decline since 2004 and sit below the state averages in both creel and gillnet studies. The population of smallmouth bass is seemingly stable; however, these fish tend to experience an unexplained stunted growth rate after the age of two. The result of these two variables is that angler usage has decreased and citizens are not using this state-managed resource to its fullest potential.

The Jordanelle Reservoir Working Group has a plan to change that.

The Provo River watershed includes two captured bodies of water that sit both north and south of the Heber Valley. Completed in 1941, the southern reservoir is called Deer Creek — a body of water that has become an icon of beauty and recreation in the Heber Valley.

The Jordanelle dam and subsequent reservoir are much, much younger. The dam, located on the north side of the Heber Valley, was completed in 1993. Shortly thereafter, the Jordanelle State Park was created, a fisheries management program was introduced and the lake was stocked with rainbow trout and smallmouth bass.

Rainbow trout have been stocked annually since the program was started. Over the past 20 years, there have been several additional efforts to manage this fishery by introducing brown trout, Bonneville cutthroat trout, Utah chub and Utah sucker. At some point, yellow perch were illegally introduced to the reservoir and can be actively gathered today.

Despite these efforts, sport fishing on the Jordanelle continues to decline.

Mixing Sport and Management

An advisory group called the Jordanelle Reservoir Working Group was created in 2013 to address the negative trends of the Jordanelle fishery. The group — comprised of selected respondents to an online survey and people directly associated with the Jordanelle Reservoir — represents various local citizen fishing groups.

In April 2016, The Jordanelle Reservoir Working Group released a new fisheries management plan that is very exciting. A variety of sport fishing species were chosen to be introduced to the Jordanelle fishery to improve the composition of the fish population, encourage local anglers and promote the recreational benefits of the Jordanelle.

The new fish species that have been introduced to Jordanelle are: kokanee salmon, wipers (a sterile hybrid between a white bass and a striped bass), tiger muskie (a sterile hybrid between a muskellunge and a northern pike) and splake (a sterile hybrid between a brook trout and a lake trout).
The addition of these species to the existing virile rainbow trout, brown trout and smallmouth bass populations will add tremendous diversity for angling techniques and year-round fishing opportunities at the Jordanelle Reservoir.

The fact that wipers, tiger muskie and splake are sterile will allow the Division of Wildlife Resources to really fine-tune both angling pressures and predator-prey relationships in the reservoir. Sterile species introductions are inherently non-committal — there is an achievable benefit for the lifespan of the fish, however if it is not working as planned, then the fish simply die off with age or predation.

Ultimately, you can add more sterile fish without any anxiety of a long-term impact. Each of these sterile species will also gravitate to different places in the reservoir and respective points in the water column, creating angling diversity throughout the reservoir.

The introduction of tiger muskie will put Jordanelle on a short list of destination angling targets for many serious fishermen. Precedents for this move can be found in Utah reservoirs such as Pineview Reservoir, east of Ogden. Since wipers often chase baitfish as prey in the summer months and create visible surface disturbances called boils, sight fishing for wipers is another destination target for anglers and will likely attract more angler hours at the Jordanelle. As for splake, the Jordanelle does not always ice over well enough to safely ice fish — but if it does, these fish will be the prized target for winter fishermen.

The most exciting part of the kokanee salmon introduction will be the fall salmon run through the Rock Cliff section of the Jordanelle State Park. The kokanee are fun because they, like their oceanic cousins, turn bright red when the time comes to spawn and charge up their river of origin to complete their life cycle. It just so happens that Rock Cliff has an already established set of bridges, pavilions and amenities that make this a very family-friendly section of the Upper Provo River. The new fall kokanee run into the Upper Provo will be a very festive occurrence that many residents will enjoy in the years to come.

Thanks to the efforts of the Jordanelle Reservoir Working Group, the reservoir has undergone a significant upgrade when it comes to sport fishing and wildlife viewing opportunities. This fall, dust off that underused fishing rig and throw a line into your backyard destination fishery.

And if you don’t fish, that’s okay: pack a picnic into Rock Cliff, take in the colors of fall and enjoy the spectacle of bright red kokanee running upriver to spawn.