Lake trout are eating all the kokanee and shrinking in the process
Managing a large sterile lake with big, long-lived predators and a fluctuating prey species poses a big challenge for fisheries managers, and Payette Lake at McCall is the latest case where managers are asking anglers what they would like to see in the future.
The issue essentially breaks down to Payette Lake’s lake trout population, which also happens to drive the population of its primary prey species, kokanee salmon. Balancing those two populations is critical to maintaining viable fisheries for each, and that balance comes at a cost, but more on that later.
Payette lake is currently dominated by lake trout, which isn’t a bad thing, but they’ve created problems, as Fish and Game Regional Fish Manager Dale Allen explains.
“Based on past stocking strategies for lake trout in Payette Lake during the 1980s, they are now overly abundant. This increase has reduced the kokanee, which is their favorite and most-important food.”
The lack of kokanee is affecting the future size and population of lake trout, which are “now smaller and much thinner than they were just a few years back,” Allen said.
There are a couple of options: Add more kokanee, or remove some lake trout, but both have challenges.
“Any action taken by the department, or anglers, is not going to show quick results in either an increase in kokanee numbers, or in the size and numbers of lake trout,” Allen said.
Fish and Game is updating the six-year Fishery Management Plan, which lays out the future direction for management of fisheries in the state.
“So now is a great time to discuss with people how they would like to see the fisheries in Payette Lake managed,” Allen said.
A familiar story for fish managers
Fish and Game has been through this situation before in North Idaho. Also, most western states are trying to manage this same situation.
In the last decade, the Fish and Game spearheaded a massive kokanee restoration project on lake Pend Oreille. It removed lake trout by providing a bounty on them, as well as large rainbow trout, to encourage anglers to harvest large, predacious fish. The project also included netting lake trout in large numbers to depress the population while temporarily boosting kokanee stocking.
After years of intense lake trout removal, and much money and effort spent, kokanee rebounded, was followed by a manageable increase in those trophy-sized rainbows and lake trout. Angling effort also significantly increased as anglers targeted the renewed kokanee population.
In nearby Priest lake, Fish and Game recently had an extensive outreach to see whether anglers wanted a