Lake Tapps fish survey shows state stocking efforts producing healthy levels

Lake Tapps fish survey shows state stocking efforts producing healthy levels

jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.comJanuary 12, 2014 

Danny Garrett of the state Department of Fish and Wildlife pulls a carp out of the gill net at Lake Tapps during a fish survey the department conducted with students from Bonney Lake High School in October 2013.

PETER HALEY — Staff photographer Buy Photo

  • PANFISH, BASS STOCKS AT HEALTHY LEVELS

    A survey of the fish population in Lake Tapps done last fall shows large numbers of panfish, and healthy numbers of bass and tiger muskies.

    Of the 2,815 fish collected over two days by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, more than one third were yellow perch. Rock bass and black crappie were next, accounting for 17.8 percent and 11.8 percent of the catch, respectively.

    “We saw a lot of small yellow perch, which indicates a good spawning and good year class,” said Bruce Bolding, the agency’s warm-water fish program manager.

    Danny Garrett, a fish biologist who helped conduct the survey, said he would like to see more anglers target rock bass and perch.

    “They’re very prevalent in the lake,” he said.

    As for largemouth and smallmouth bass, Garrett said in October he expected the bass numbers to be underrepresented because the water temperatures were cold and the fish were not moving around much.

    Bolding said the agency will continue to stock tiger muskies each year, while panfish, largemouth bass and smallmouth bass stocks will rely on natural production.

    Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors

Lake Tapps anglers can count on continuing to target bass, tiger muskies and panfish.

That is the conclusion made by Bruce Bolding, warm-water fish program manager for the state Department of Fish and Wildlife, after looking at data collected during October’s fish survey.

“As far as active management of the lake goes, it is going to continue to be centered around the tiger muskie, bass and panfish,” Bolding said.

How Bolding reached that decision was a mix of a civic lesson, fisheries biology, plenty of physical exertion and some hands-on learning.

On a cold, fog-shrouded fall morning, a dozen students from White River and Bonney Lake high schools got their hands wet and slimy pulling fish from a net and putting them on a scale and measuring them. Department staff members recorded the information, took occasional scale samples and interacted with the students. A state senator was seemingly everywhere, working on one of the boats that went out the night before, asking questions of staff members one moment, prodding students to get involved the next.

The survey was done over three nights and two mornings on Lake Tapps, northeast of Puyallup. Some crews used electricity and others set gill nets to capture fish.

“We want to see how the lake is responding to the tiger muskies,” Bolding said that morning. “The survey is a snapshot of the entire fishery.”

CONCERNED CITIZEN

The survey was prompted by a request from Sen. Pam Roach, R-Auburn. After receiving a letter from a Lake Tapps resident, she held a public meeting in September to discuss the lake’s fishery. Some residents were concerned tiger muskies were eating the other game fish. Others wanted the opportunity to catch rainbow trout and kokanee, fish once stocked in the lake. At the meeting, Roach asked if a survey could take place. The last survey was done in 1997.

The 4.5 square mile lake is managed as a mixed fishery, offering the opportunity to catch largemouth and smallmouth bass, yellow perch, black crappie and tiger muskie.

The toothy muskies, which grow to be large predators, were first stocked in the lake in 2000. They feed almost exclusively on suckers, found extensively in Lake Tapps, and other soft-rayed fish. Lake Tapps is one of seven lakes in the state where the sterile muskies have been planted.

Roach did more than hold the meeting. She spent a night on the water helping with the survey.

“We wanted to do an inventory of the lake. When we have the survey data, we can decide if this is the mix (of fish) we want,” she said.

Brent Lewis, a Bonney Lake resident, stopped by Allan Yorke Park to watch the action. He remembers, as a child, fishing for trout and kokanee on the lake. Now he pursues the difficult to catch muskies.

“They’re fun. We spend most of our time fishing for muskies,” Lewis said.

In fact, last June his 11-year-old son Blake caught a 50-inch tiger muskie that weighed 42 pounds.

Lewis said he understands people who recall the days of catching trout. But he doesn’t blame the muskies.

“If you look back at the stocking records, they stopped stocking the lake long before tiger muskies were introduced,” he said.

LACK OF HABITAT

Both Roach and Bolding said there are a number of factors effecting fish populations in the lake.

“You’ve got a lot of things going on here, water supply, boating, recreational fishing, invasive species” Roach said.

One of the biggest issues, Bolding said is the lack of fish habitat, places for young fish to hide from predators and to find forage.

“There is not a tremendous amount of good natural habitat in the lake,” Bolding said. “Consequently the fish community is not as robust as it would be in other more robust waters.”

The lack of habitat is something Roach saw first hand.

“We were in spots, where you look in the water and you couldn’t see any plant life. It was like the barren moon surface,” she said in October.

The use of artificial habitat, such as Christmas trees anchored to the lake bottom, isn’t a practical solution, Bolding said.

“One reason to do that is to use it as a fish attractant. But that concentrates the fish and that makes them easy picking. You actually hurt the fish population,” he said.

Also, to be effective, such a large amount of structure would have to be used to be productive that it is not efficient or economically wise.

Water quality is one of the reasons the state no longer stocks rainbow trout, Bolding said.

Because the White River, an important source of water for the lake, is of glacial origin, the productivity of the lake is low and there is not a good food base for trout,” he said.

He said staff members collected plankton samples during the October survey and they are being analyzed now. But looking at the samples when they were taken revealed very little zooplankton, he said.

The size of the lake also works against stocked trout.

“In order to stock enough fish to have an expectation of a reasonable return-to-creel, there would be few fish left to stock any other lakes in Pierce County,” Bolding said. “Our hatchery program has a finite number of fish that it can physically produce and stock, and we are close to that number now. It is better to spread the opportunity around the county rather than have all the fish in one lake.”

Given all those factors, Bolding said the department will stick to its current plan.

“Tiger muskies will continue to be stocked every year. Since they are sterile …, we can control their numbers very precisely, therefore, preventing their population from getting out of control and negatively impacting any other populations,” he said. “The bass and panfish are sustained by natural production in the lake and they seem to be doing well enough to provide good sport fishing opportunities.”

Roach said she understands Bolding’s decision, and will share the results at upcoming town hall meetings.

“The balance we’ve struck is a fine one. It’s a good fishery for bass and a great fishery for tiger muskie,” she said. “It lets us know we have a great fishery on Lake Tapps and will help us develop the local economy.”

Jeffrey P. Mayor: 253-597-8640 jeff.mayor@thenewstribune.com thenewstribune.com/outdoors

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