Management Plan in place for Lees Ferry
Late last summer, the Arizona Game and Fish Department finalized a fisheries management plan for the very important and popular section of the Colorado River below Glen Canyon Dam known as Lees Ferry.
Consistent with what many anglers have experienced up there, creel surveys have shown a dramatic decrease in angler catch rates over recent years (2012-2015). This reduction is best explained by the significant reduction in numbers of catchable trout (Rainbow Trout > 9 inches). The data also suggests that boat anglers are experiencing catch rates less than the management objective of greater than one fish per hour. Also, anglers in the walk-in area have not achieved the goal of greater than one fish per hour since 2012. As catch rates have decreased in the walk in area, the Department has observed an increase in the proportion of Rainbow Trout harvested. Angler use at Lees Ferry has a profound impact on the local economy near Marble Canyon Arizona. Communications with local businesses suggest that angler use has significantly declined in 2016. In addition, Department monitoring efforts show a reduction in use in the walk-in area that corresponds with reduced catch rates in 2015.
In response to the declines, the Department worked very hard with various angler groups, guides, businesses and our Federal partners in crafting a Lees Ferry Fisheries Management Plan, to guide management into the future. The Department also recommended a regulation change at the September meeting of the Arizona Game and Fish Commission (Commission). The recommendation was to reduce the legal harvest from 4 trout to 2 trout and remove the 14 inch size restriction. The recommendation was supported by the Commission and will go into effect January 1, 2017.
The operations at Glen Canyon Dam have a large influence on so many things at Lees Ferry, but forage diversity and abundance is arguably the most important factors that are affected by flow regimes. Low water levels in Lake Powell have resulted in warmer water being discharged through the dam. The increases in water temperature, combined with an impaired food base, are responsible for the most recent trout reductions at Lees Ferry. In an effort to counter these impacts on the fishery, the Department, along with many dedicated anglers, recently spent hundreds of hours working through the recent agency and public review process of the Biological Assessment for the Long-Term Experimental and Management Plan for Glen Canyon Dam (L-TEMP). Our efforts will hopefully lead to a balanced approach mitigating many of these continued impacts from dam operations on the Rainbow Trout fishery.
On a positive note, our data are showing a rebounding of young Rainbow Trout within Lees Ferry since 2015. While stocking Rainbow Trout remains an option, we must balance short term angler catch rates with the fact that forage is limited and the upcoming age class of trout will need a sustainable food source. Therefore, the Department continues to monitor the population and is looking forward to better catch rates in 2017.
Anglers are our priority, and that’s why the Department will remain vigilant in following through with the objectives in the Lees Ferry Fisheries Management Plan. We will continue to work with our Federal partners to ensure a balance between the management needs in Glen and Grand canyons and making Lees Ferry the best fishery it can be. Go see the plan at: lees-ferry-fisheries-managment-plan-final