If your average catch in Pathfinder Reservoir is four rainbow trout in half of a day, expect to start catching three.
The same goes for Alcova, Seminoe and Boysen reservoirs, among others.
The Wyoming Game and Fish Department is cutting about 25 percent of the fish it normally stocks from more than 140 Wyoming waters. The cuts are in response to a funding shortfall after the Wyoming State Legislature decided not to raise license fees this year.
No one will likely notice a change in the large waters in 2014, said Mark Fowden, chief of fisheries for the department. But by 2015, fish won’t be as plentiful. More cuts have not been proposed nor approved, but the possibility has local anglers worried.
“We would eventually be fished out,” said John Blyth, owner of Four Seasons Anglers in Laramie. The Laramie plains lakes depend exclusively on yearly fish stocking and cuts could be more prominent there and in other small lakes and reservoirs. The first reduction won’t permanently hurt the fisheries, but they could if reductions continue, he said.
“It would have a great impact on business and fishing in the area.”
Game and Fish’s fish culture department raises more than four million of fish each year to be placed in Wyoming’s lakes and rivers. From large reservoirs like Flaming Gorge to alpine lakes high in the Big Horn Mountains, few Wyoming lakes and reservoirs don’t receive supplemental fish.
The department keeps brood stocks -- adult fish it can breed -- of 18 types or strains of fish. Officials raise fish like rainbow, brook and brown trout for sport fishing. Wyoming’s hatcheries raise all four strains of cutthroat trout for sport fishing and also to help replenish Wyoming’s native populations, Fowden said.
Wyoming’s hatchery system is the only one in the world to successfully raise golden trout.
And it’s expensive.
The department’s 10 fish hatcheries and rearing stations cost Game and Fish just under $5 million each year, 43 percent of the fisheries budget. Revenues from $24 yearly resident and $14 daily nonresident licenses don’t pay for fish stocking and the rest of the fisheries department.
Fowden lists five reasons for the high cost: Maintaining the brood stocks, fish food, utilities, distribution and personnel. Utilities, for example, have risen 110 percent since 2004. The cost of feed has risen 165 percent.
Keeping breeding fish healthy and disease-free requires constant monitoring.
“We control our fish disease destiny for all waters other than the North Platte River, which headwaters in Colorado,” Fowden said.
A disease in the headwater spreads to the rest of the river. Whirling disease, which makes fish spin in circles until they either starve or are eaten, started in the North Platte out of state most likely from a private fish stocking company, he said.
Nonnative fish like rainbow trout have built sustainable populations in plenty of rivers. Lake populations are a different story. Natural reproduction in Pathfinder, for example, can’t begin to sustain the lake’s trout population.
Trout move up the North Platte River to spawn, but are eaten by walleye when they come back down the river as babies, Fowden said.
To combat predation, officials stock 9-inch trout that have a fighting chance.
“If they stopped stocking, there would be virtually no trout left in Pathfinder,” Fowden said.
Pathfinder angler Randy Bird isn’t worried about the 2014 cuts. The fishery is so strong he thinks it can withstand one year, but he hopes it won’t continue.
He and his family can fish on Pathfinder and catch plenty.
“For me personally, I love trout, and I love that fishery,” he said. “Some lakes you don’t catch but one fish here or there and you get bored. They need to do what they can do to keep the culture program going.”
Pathfinder isn’t the only reservoir facing a future with fewer fish.
Without the department’s stocking program, most of Wyoming’s lakes and reservoirs would lose their trout. Fishing is a $200 million industry in Wyoming with more than half of that money coming from boating anglers. The bulk of the anglers on boats are fishing for trout.
“It would be a $110 million loss to the state to lose the trout reservoir fisheries,” Fowden said.