On the morning of January 31, ice-angling investigators from the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources and interested public set out to solve the mystery of the missing yellow perch. Summer fishing is excellent and gill net surveys revealed a large population of several strong year classes including fish up to a foot in length. However, over the last two years, few are caught by ice-anglers. Where do they go?
Almost all of the investigators who met at the Starvation Reservoir boat ramp had some experience with catching yellow perch at Starvation during the summer months and most had successfully ice-fished for them on other reservoirs.
After sharing tips on where and how to look or fish for the perch, and reviewing the latest information from the UDWR and Steinaker State Parks personnel, five crews went out. Each group worked an area along the reservoir where they drilled holes and dropped in lines, cameras and fish finders. Crews moved frequently in an attempt to locate a concentration of fish.
The first two crews went northeast to the Saleratus Wash Knights Hollow area. There they checked out the deeper water flats and the shallower bays. They were looking for waters in the 45-foot depth range and shallow areas where the weed beds held perch during the summer.
A group went down to the Indian Bay area, where they fished shallow to deep waters working their way in and out of the bays and around a small island. Another crew went farther west to check out the inlet, then returned to a small bay south west of the bridge and finally to the bay under the bridge checking inside the bay and out along the cliff face.
The last group investigated the area within sight and walking distance of the boat ramp. They placed themselves where they could be seen if additional anglers came out to help while testing the waters from three to 75 feet deep in the main channel and along the banks.
Did they find the fish? Well kinda but not really.
One of the two crews in Saleratus caught five perch most of the way back in along the lip of the old channel. The area above the channel would have had weed beds during the summer months. The other crew spread out and fished deeper waters in the middle of the Bay, along the rocky reef, along the wall near Mike's Point and in the shallower inland bay areas. They had a few strikes but no fish and felt some of the strikes were likely rainbow or brown trout rather than yellow perch. This group also used an underwater camera but it didn't show much.
The crew at the boat ramp had several strikes, including two rainbows because they brought them to their holes before losing them. The rainbows were in 10 and 25 feet of water.
The Indian Bay crew only had a couple of nudges as they worked out from the bays into deeper waters and circled the small island. It wasn't until they centered themselves between the two southern points and the island that they caught fish. The three anglers caught six perch in five minutes before the fishing shut itself off. The school they located was in roughly 45 feet of water.
The final crew found the waters near the inlet to be quite muddy so they returned east and tried a hollow southeast of the bridge. Not finding fish there, they decided to work the bay next to the Bridge where another angler reported catching a few perch a week earlier. They started inside the bay and worked their way out the mouth just northeast of the bridge where they caught a yellow perch and hooked into a big walleye in about 12 feet of water.
While the catch rates were disappointing, the anglers learned a couple of things. First, the perch are not in the same places they occupied during summer. The experienced anglers theorize the perch have probably formed large schools. The schools are likely spread out and probably rest in 45 feet or more of water and then move into shallower areas to feed.
Second, while the perch didn't cooperate, the rainbow trout did. Most of the crews felt they had at least one rainbow strike. This was exciting to the fisheries managers as only a few rainbows were experimentally stocked during the fall of 2006. Biologists quit stocking rainbows into Starvation years ago due to increasing predation from walleye, bass and brown trout and from competition from other fish. The experiment was to stock larger fingerlings in the fall to see if they could survive to reach catchable sizes.
These experimental fish didn't turn up in the spring and summer nettings, nor did biologists hear of anglers catching them during the summer. So a more extensive evaluation was proposed for the future to compare a larger number of advanced fingerlings stocked in the fall to catchable 10-inch sized spring plants.
The two rainbows the anglers brought in and could see under the ice were big, healthy fish. Park rangers said they had also observed a few additional rainbows caught during the last few months. This has given biologists added incentive to continue experimenting with the goal of bringing about a return of the rainbow trout fishing at Starvation.
The biologists who helped organized the Starvation Perch Search, would like to thank the searchers and to challenge anglers with a quest find the perch! If you succeed, please call or drop in to the Northeastern Region or any other UDWR office or the Starvation State Park headquarters and tell your story. The yellow perch fishery in Starvation is simply too nice to let it sit idle under the ice.