Tight Lines: A case of mistaken identity
Ignore the slash.
That's the word from state fisheries biologists for anglers - and law enforcement officials - when identifying trout at Strawberry Reservoir.
Tex Christiansen of Taylorsville called me last week to voice concern over anglers at Strawberry receiving citations for keeping rainbow trout a Wasatch County deputy sheriff misidentified as a protected cutthroat trout.
One of the five regulations for Strawberry Reservoir in the 2006 Utah Fishing Proclamation states: "Any trout with cutthroat markings is considered to be a cutthroat trout." That's important because the most widely recognized rule at Utah's most popular trout fishery requires anglers to release all cutthroat between 15 and 22 inches.
While it is legal to keep a rainbow of any size at Strawberry, the issue of trout identification by law enforcement appears to have led to some anglers getting a ticket without merit. Apparently, the sheriff, like many anglers, assumes the definitive characteristic of a cutthroat is the famous slash. That isn't the case.
"Just because it has a slash under the jaw doesn't mean it is a cutthroat," said Strawberry Project leader Alan Ward. "We see rainbows straight from the hatchery with a slash. If you really want to ID the fish, look for the classic reddish/pink band down the side and white-tipped pelvic and anal fins of a rainbow. Cutthroats have orange-colored anal and pelvic fins."
Division of Wildlife Resources conservation officers are aware of the differences and are less likely to cite an angler in possession of a rainbow with a slash, but Forest Service rangers and Wasatch County sheriffs also patrol the reservoir.
Ward said he appreciates the extra law enforcement on the reservoir and doesn't blame the deputy sheriff because "based on the wording in the proclamation, it is easy to understand why" mistakes are made. He is moving quickly to remedy the situation.
"I'm setting up a meeting with Wasatch County, the Forest Service and our own officers to give them an update on the reservoir in general and I'm going to add a fish identification course so everybody understands the difference," he said.
Roger Wilson, former Strawberry Project leader and now the sport fishing coordinator for the DWR, also talked to Christiansen. That conversation and a follow-up with Ward on Tuesday encouraged Wilson to come up with another proposal for the 2007 proclamation, which goes out to the Regional Advisory Councils later this month.
"We aren't going to change the regulation; just looking to clarify the distinguishing characteristics between a cutthroat and a rainbow," Wilson said. "Slashing is just not a reliable form of identification, especially when you are dealing with the Bear Lake cutthroat at Strawberry."
The color art work and accompanying description information of sport fish in the 2006 proclamation should be enough to help anglers from getting a ticket. There is also a a free brochure, Fishing Regulations at Strawberry Reservoir, which helps with identifying the two trout at Strawberry.
That publication is available at the Forest Service visitors center on the Strawberry River off Highway 40 and at DWR offices.