Perch project fishes for results from Craig

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— The idea of stocking perch at Stagecoach Reservoir has been put on the back burner until a similar project at Elk Head Reservoir pans out.
"Nothing is happening," Stagecoach State Park Manager Fred Bohlmann said of the plan.
He introduced the idea of stocking the warm-water fish into the reservoir earlier this year in hopes of making the waters a better fishery and to increase patronage at the park.
The Yampa Valley Fly Fishers and other fishing advocates were fiercely against stocking the perch, which are not native to this area, because of the risk of introducing the fish into the Yampa River.
Non-native fish, such as bass and northern pike, that swim in local rivers and lakes feed on trout and other longtime natives.
"They are part of the reason that we have an endangered fish problem in the Yampa River," said Eric Kuhn, manager of the Colorado River Water Conservation District.
Pike, in particular, have decreased the number of trout in the Stagecoach Reservoir dramatically, he said.
To prevent the perch from making their home in the river, Bohlmann wants to place a Kevlar screen across the outlet of the reservoir to keep the fish in.
The entire project, including research, would cost $2 million.
Even if the perch don't get stocked, Bohlmann is interested in screening the outlet anyway to prevent more pike from going into the Yampa River.
"I think as a preventative means that it is a good idea," he said.
Bohlmann was going to circulate a survey this summer to get public opinion on the perch issue but decided against it.
"It was unnecessarily stirring the pot," he said.
Also, Bohlmann said he is convinced the majority of anglers at Stagecoach would support the introduction because it would mean more fish on their lines. The real reason for putting the plan down for a while isn't public opinion, Bohlmann said. It is that local fishing clubs and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are feeling wary of the risks.
Though the Fish and Wildlife Service has the final say in the matter, its reservations are not the nails in the coffin for the perch project at Stagecoach Reservoir. Bohlmann said he believes he could pursue the idea again if a similar project at Elk Head Reservoir, north of Craig, proves successful.
Last month, wildlife and land agencies, county and city representatives and private citizens met in Craig to talk about water.
Their goal was to come up with a plan to improve flows in the Yampa River, solve fishery issues and protect endangered fish. The result was to increase Elk Head reservoir by 10 feet, or 8,000 acre feet of water.
While increasing the height of the dam, officials want to cover the outlet with a Kevlar screen and stock it with non-native, warm-water fish to improve the sport fishing, Kuhn said.
That will be a joint project between the city of Craig, Colorado State Parks, Colorado River Water Conservation District and the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

To reach Doug Crowl call 871-4206 or e-mail dcrowl@amigo.net

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