The culprit is an illegally stocked fish known as a burbot or ling, a freshwater cod native to waters east of the Continental Divide.
This invasive species has been found in Flaming Gorge. Burbot are having a negative effect on sport fish in the reservoir, especially the reservoir's smallmouth bass.
Three tons of fish
At last winter's Burbot Bash, biologists from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources (UDWR) and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department tagged 505 burbot prior to the kick-off on Jan. 22.
"A total of 485 participants registered for the tournament and collectively harvested 4,022 burbot in seven days," says Ryan Mosley with the UDWR. "Total weight of all those burbot was over three tons! That's impressive removal of an unwanted species and a good investment.
"If the two management agencies were netting to remove burbot, it would take over 90 nights and numerous personnel to remove that much biomass."
Catch all you want
In response to the burbot threat, the Green River, Rock Springs, Vernal and Flaming Gorge chambers of commerce have joined forces to promote the Burbot Bash, a four-day fishing derby to be held Jan. 25 - 28. These chambers are working in partnership with the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
"We are excited about using the Burbot Bash as a forum to increase public awareness of this threat to the Flaming Gorge fishery," says Janet Hartford, executive director of the Green River Chamber of Commerce. "It is also a great way to introduce anglers to the family-friendly sport of ice fishing that is so popular throughout the winter on Flaming Gorge Reservoir."
Burbot are best caught at night and in the winter, so ice fishing is very productive for this problem species. There is no catch limit on Flaming Gorge for burbot, and state game officials in both Wyoming and Utah encourage anglers to harvest as many as possible.
The Burbot Bash will kick off with a Fishing Expo. The expo will start at 1 p.m. on Jan. 25 at Buckboard Marina. The marina is located on the reservoir south of Green River, Wyoming.
The expo will feature prize drawings and fishing tips. Presentations about ice fishing safety and the current status of fish in Flaming Gorge will also be given.
The fishing expo is free, but the fishing derby that follows the expo isn't. If you want to participate in the quest for prizes, you need to register at www.flaminggorgecountry.com and pay a fee.
Throughout the next three days, the derby is on! Teams of up to four anglers can complete for more than $10,000 in cash and prizes.
A unique feature of the Burbot Bash derby is the opportunity anglers have to catch tagged fish.
A select number of burbot have been implanted with internal tags that can only be identified with specialized electronic readers. State fish biologists hope to learn more about the extent of the burbot problem in Flaming Gorge based on tag-return data. Information from the tagging program will allow biologists to obtain a variety of information about the species, including movement, migration, survivability, growth rates and population estimates.
The catch? Tournament anglers will not know if they've caught a tagged fish or not. Therefore, all burbot caught will need to be checked in and scanned for tags at the check-in sites that will be open daily throughout the derby.
All anglers catching a tagged fish will be entered into a drawing for cash prizes. The grand prize drawing for catching a tagged fish is $2,500. "This tagged-fish drawing allows anglers who can only fish one evening to still win in this derby," says Craig Collett, president of the Flaming Gorge Chamber of Commerce.
Prizes will also be awarded in youth categories and for the most fish caught and the biggest fish caught.
The derby will conclude on Jan. 28 with a burbot-filleting competition, a free burbot fish fry and the prize-award ceremony featuring the tagged fish drawing.
The prize-award ceremony will be held at the Manila Rodeo Grounds in Manila, Utah.
"Both opening and closing events are open to all the public," Hartford says. "You do not need to enter the derby to come out with your family and have fun at this great winter event."
Fishing regulations, and more information
For more information about the event and to pre-register for the tournament, please visit www.flaminggorgecountry.com.
Fishing regulations, guidebooks and licenses can be found and bought at many stores and shops in the Flaming Gorge area.
Regulations and licenses are also available at www.wildlife.utah.gov and http://gf.state.wy.us.