Uinta Mountains • There’s gold in them thar lakes.
Well, golden trout anyway.
State wildlife officials recently released 4,800 golden trout in Echo Lake in the Uinta Mountains to bolster a small population of the rare — at least in Utah — fish.
Golden trout are not native to Utah — they come from the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California — but have been introduced in a few Uinta Mountains lakes over the years to provide angling diversity in the popular high-elevation lakes.
Robert Black arrived at Echo shortly after the 6- to 10-inch fish were released. He had done his homework and was hoping to land a golden trout and claim bragging rights among his fishing buddies.
“I came here specifically for the golden trout,” said Black, of South Weber. “I looked up some stocking reports from a long time ago and saw they were here. I’m in a contest with some guys at work to see how many species in Utah we can get this year, and the golden trout is worth a lot of points.”
Black was having a hard time getting the newcomers to take the flies he was presenting, as the fish were likely a little rattled after hitching a ride to Echo Lake from the hatchery truck via oxygen-fed coolers strapped to off-highway vehicles.
Or the fish, having come from the state hatchery in Midway, may have been waiting for a different kind of food.
“Probably about 3 p.m. they will start looking around for the pellets and wondering why there aren’t any,” said one Utah Division of Wildlife Resources biologist. “That was feeding time at the hatchery.”
Black and his four children decided to head to the other end of the lake in search of golden trout that actually knew what wild food looks like.
A small number of golden trout have been hanging on in Echo Lake since the last release of the fish in 1977.
“The state has been managing golden trout to some degree since the 1920s. Many populations did well into the 1950s until brook trout were stocked or invaded, and at that time we lost many of our populations,” said Paul Thompson, a native aquatic biologist with the DWR. “More lakes were stocked in the 1960s and 1970s, but pretty much met the same fate.”
Golden trout had held on at Echo and some lakes in the Atwood Creek drainage of the Uintas.
“We get reports every year of anglers catching a few golden trout,” Thompson said. “They have become pretty popular and when eggs became available from Wyoming, we decided to take some and stock the lakes again.”
The first batch of 13,000 goldens were stocked at about 2 inches long in the summer of 2012 at three lakes in the Atwood Creek drainage. The goal was for 3,000 to be released this summer at Echo. Things went better than expected at Midway Hatchery over the past year and 4,800 fish, averaging 6 to 8 inches, were released after their rough ride on the Murdock Basin Road.
Utah fisheries officials are working hard to restore native cutthroat trout in home ranges across the state. Part of that effort means avoiding placing non-native fish in competition with the natives. Portions of the Uinta Mountains did not have native trout when pioneers arrived. Biologists eventually introduced brook and rainbow trout in the productive waters.
“We manage the Uintas for a variety of species,” Thompson said. “We do have some drainages specifically designated for native cutthroat trout. We also have tiger trout [a hybrid between a brook and a brown trout], brook trout, rainbow trout and grayling to provide some diversity.”
People can help the golden trout do well at Echo and in the Atwood Creek drainage by keeping brook trout and putting goldens back in the water.
Black’s family had not caught any goldens by the time biologists left Echo, but he was looking forward to many return trips for a chance to catch the species.
“I used to live in Idaho, and there are a couple of really elusive lakes in the Sawtooth Mountains that have goldens and I caught them there,” he said. “They are really aggressive and fun to catch when you can find them.”
Going for gold
Golden trout are not native to Utah, but were introduced by state wildlife officials to provide diversity. Here’s some tidbits about the uniquely marked trout:
• Golden trout are the state fish of California and are native to the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
• Goldens are closely related to the rainbow trout. Some scientists classify the golden trout as a subspecies of the rainbow trout.
• The fish are found in only two river drainages of the Uinta Mountains: Duchesne and Uinta.
• Utah records: The state record 14-ounce golden was caught in 1977 on Atwood Creek in the Uinta Mountains. The catch and release record 111⁄8-inch fish was caught at Echo Lake in the Uintas in 2008.
Source: Utah Division of Wildlife Resources
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O About 4,800 golden trout are released into Echo Lake