For more than eight years, the effort to re-establish populations of the iconic Yellowstone cutthroat trout to their native Yellowstone Lake has been ongoing. Recently, the National Park Service announced what it called “significant progress” in one of the largest trout restoration programs ever undertaken.
The species, which is a significant player in the overall ecosystem in our nation’s flagship national park, is also a draw for both visiting and local anglers interested in fishing for native fish that are a blast, especially during their spawning run up the creeks. This is a fishery that has been decimated in recent decades by non-native lake trout.
Lake trout are deep-water fish that aggressively prey on cutthroats. They have been known to grow up to almost 30 pounds on a diet of cutthroat in Yellowstone Lake, and they have annihilated the native species and fishery.
The Park Service, Trout Unlimited and local fishing guides have been waging war on Lake Trout just to give the Yellowstone cutthroat a chance. With traps and gill nets, more than 300,000 lake trout were removed from the 139-square-mile lake in 2012 and 2013. These numbers indicate a decrease in overall lake trout numbers, and analysis from Montana State University indicates the population is in decline thanks to continued efforts.
The program may have turned a corner in the restoration of cutthroat populations to Yellowstone Lake, but lake trout will likely never be eradicated. The Yellowstone Science Review Panel has concluded culling of lake trout must continue at present levels. Biologists are even considering more sophisticated weapons, such as using electricity to destroy lake trout eggs and larvae at spawning grounds. It is a battle that will continue indefinitely.