Wyo Game And Fish Considering Saratoga Lake Unlimited Trout Fishing Before The Fish Kill

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By Ellen Fike, Cowboy State Daily

In the world of angling, “catch and release” is a common practice because it allows sport fishing while maintaining fish populations at a sustainable level.

The opposite of ‘catch-and-release’, call it ‘catch-and-keep-every-fish-possible’, may happen at Lake Saratoga later this year if a special draft rule is approved by Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Governor Mark Gordon.

The Game and Fish Department recently announced that it will kill all fish in Saratoga Lake due to the illegal introduction of yellow perch. The decision forced the cancellation of the annual Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby as there will be no more live fish in the lake.

However, a Fish and Game Department fisheries biologist suggested at a public meeting that the department first allow people to fish in the lake – and keep as many fish as they want.

What this could mean for the public is unlimited lake fishing. An angling jackpot. A fishing party. Yee-haw.

Currently, Wyoming regulations allow anglers on the lake to keep six trout per day.

Department spokeswoman Sara DiRienzo told the Cowboy State Daily on Wednesday that the emergency settlement has yet to be signed by Gordon, who must authorize the move, but once it is, the fishery unlimited will be allowed.

A rotenone treatment at the lake is scheduled for mid-September, so anglers should have at least two months to fish for trout and yellow perch to their stomach’s delight. There are rainbow, tiger and brown trout in the lake.

The perches are actually not native to the lake and are the reason the lake population needs to be wiped out.

“Last summer we discovered [yellow] roosting in the lake during routine university sampling,” Alan Osterland, fisheries chief for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, told the Cowboy State Daily on Monday. “We’re running this like a trout fishery, so having perch so high in the system could be a problem for a lot of reasons.”

Osterland said the plan is to restock the lake with trout next summer.

Fish kills prompted the cancellation of the popular and long-running Saratoga Ice Fishing Derby, which was due to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2023. However, there are plans to return in 2024, with no perch in the water.

The Peach Derby was started in the 1980s by CJ Box, who has since become a household name for his series of novels by Joe Pickett and Cassie Dewell.

“The Chamber of Commerce didn’t have any money, so … CJ kicked off the fishing tournament,” former lawmaker and fourth-generation Wyomingite Teense Willford told the Cowboy State Daily on Monday.

Willford said that at the start of the derby, the organizers did stupid things such as handing out prizes for the best “bad luck” story or sending official invitations to famous people, such as Prince Charles and Princess Diana or US Gen Norman Schwarzkopf, to serve as the “king” or “queen” of the derby.

Although none of the invited celebrities have ever attended the derby, Willford believes that if they had, the Saratoga community would have given them a good time.

Osterland said the department is still investigating who was involved in stocking the lake with the illegal yellow perch, but he believes it was someone who liked to fish for perch and wanted to do it locally.

“Seeding” might be a strong word, however, as Osterland said the person could have brought in as few as two yellow perch and the fish mate quickly and at a young age.

This isn’t the first time the department has had to deal with Lake Saratoga for illegally stored fish, but Osterland said it hasn’t happened for many years.

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