Last week’s column was a lengthy one for sure. The idea was to lay out some background information so I could continue with a finale in this week’s paper.
I apologize to all of you that claimed to become cross-eyed from reading last week’s publication. I will pay particular attention to the length of my column this week so your eyes can uncross and your brain is not smoking once you have see to the end. When I mentioned to my editor that the next few weeks could see columns that take up half a page, she turned several shades more pale than a normal Wyoming winter does to skin tones while her eyes grew as large as a deer in the headlights at the news!
Invasive species, especially aquatic invasive species, have become a problem in Wyoming as well as other states in the Union. Aquatic invasive species encompass more than just trout and char species I outlined in last week’s column.
Non-native crayfish, aquatic plants too numerous to mention here, plus zebra, quagga and other freshwater mussels and other organisms that need water to survive, have managed to invade our rivers, streams and lakes. Some hitched a ride on watercraft not cleaned or thoroughly dried, or via migratory birds like waterfowl. And others have come in the mud found on vehicles and boat trailer mud flaps.
Believe it or not, goldfish and other aquarium fish that no longer fascinate their owners are dumped into lakes and streams with no thought as to the consequences. All of the above are a problem for Wyoming’s native fish, crayfish, sponges, crustaceans and plants that have adapted to our landscape and ecology over time.
This non-native invasion adds up to a real control and management issue for our Wyoming Game and Fish managers. I want to address the fishery problem caused by the dumping of aquarium fish into local lakes like West and East Newton, if not also Beck, New Cody, Buffalo Bill and the rest of the ones found in Park County. If you do not know this, many of the aquarium fish sold for private use come from foreign countries. Typically, the carp family is represented in the form of what are called “goldfish.”
While these fish are no threat to native or non-native cutthroat trout as a predator, the goldfish and some of their aquarium relatives can and do create considerable damage to water clarity in lakes, as well as to aquatic invertebrate populations found in lake environments that have been planted with trout. If those lakes have connectivity to streams and rivers, then the pets called “Nemo,” “Oscar” or something else do become a threat to native cutthroat, Rocky Mountain whitefish, native suckers and native baitfish too, as they are spread downstream from the point of introduction.
What many aquarium owners probably do not consider when tired of cleaning aquariums are two things. One is the fact that disposing of one’s pet fish from home is illegal. The second thing not considered is what we discussed above. That is the long-term environmental damage than can be done when these fishy pets and the aquarium’s aquatic plants from home manage to reproduce and then invade local fisheries.
We already have a goldfish infestation problem at West Newton Lake. Rather than flush the pet down a toilet or bury it in the backyard, they were given new lease on life when the owners dumped their goldfish bowls into West Newton. Goldfish then spread into the East Lake over the past several years. Game and Fish is very concerned the goldfish could change the water quality in these lakes over time because they have a tendency to root around on the bottom in search of food. If sunlight penetration is interrupted by the turbid waters, then the plants that help oxygenate lakes and also provide cover for baitfish, aquatic insects and crustaceans will cease to exist.
The result from this die-off will be a decline in the currently healthy trout populations over time. Since East Newton Lake is managed as a trophy trout lake, neither anglers nor fishery managers want to see the lake’s trout fishery collapse any time soon. I know I am not alone when I state I am looking forward to seeing how much larger East Newton’s tiger trout have grown since last fall.
Beck Lake has a large population of carp and so does the South Fork Abatement Dike pond. When you have a chance, take a look at the water quality once the ice is gone. Pay attention to clarity in either of these impoundments. You will see more clearly what I am trying to articulate on this page. Thankfully, there are some spear-fishing enthusiasts that spend a good deal of their time at West and East Newton Lakes removing the infestation of goldfish in both lakes. In fact, there is some great video footage on YouTube shared by a local goldfish spear-fisher. Goldfish are a bit tougher to take by rod and reel, but it can be done. G&F would love to have these invasive fish permanently removed from both lakes.
While I have never met anybody driving specifically from Florida to target goldfish in either Newton Lakes, or carp in Beck Lake, I can say that fly fishing for carp has become quite the hobby and sport for those that like a challenge. The common carp is the most prevalent species found in local waters around the Big Horn Basin. These fish grow large, eat bait or flies and are quite the challenge to catch in the shallow waters in which they prefer to cruise and feed. Carp are called by their enthusiasts a “poor man’s tarpon, or permit.” I have fly fished for them and can definitely attest to their spooky nature and that stealth and well-presented flies are necessary if the angler wants to feel the power and speed of a carp once hooked.
This in no way completes the discussion on aquatic invasive species, but I hope it gives you a better understanding of why Wyoming must manage to remain wild given the century in which we live so we can pass along that understanding and heritage to future generations.
Our wild and native cutthroat trout and other plant and animal species that lived here long before our European or other ancestors came to the Americas, deserve our support rather than exacerbating their demise. It is the responsibility of every sportsman, hunter or fisher, to be conscious of the impacts bad decisions, however well-intentioned at the time, can be to our native lands and aquatic environments.
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