The Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Wyoming Wildlife Protectors Association is offering a reward of up to $2,500 for information leading to the conviction of the person or persons who illegally stocked largemouth bass into the North Platte River at Gray Reef Dam.
Fish biologists recently discovered two 10-inch largemouth bass while electro-fishing near the county boat launch ramp just below the dam. The presence of the two fish suggests there could be more, said Al Conder, Casper Region fisheries supervisor.
While largemouth bass are found in some areas of the North Platte River drainage, the closest location is at Big Muddy Pond near Glenrock. "That's 71 river miles downstream. These fish would have had to get from the pond into the river and then swim that far. Bass prefer warm water and the river water gets colder each mile upstream," Conder said in a news release. He believes the bass were either released directly into the river near the boat ramp or into Gray Reef Reservoir, where they managed to drift down over the dam.
Conder said it is highly unlikely that largemouth bass would spawn in the Gray Reef area because the water temperature would generally not be warm enough for the warm-water species.
A new law that went into effect on July 1 carries stiff penalties for anyone who illegally stocks fish in the state. These penalties could include the potential loss of fishing and hunting privileges for life. Violators could also be fined up to $10,000, face up to a year in jail and may have to pay restitution to the Game and Fish Department for costs incurred to remove the unwanted species.
Robin Kepple, regional information specialist with Game and Fish, said the law was put into place because the introduction of fish into a waterway where they are not normally found could change the ecological balance of the area, harm the native fish populations or cause other problems.
"There's a lot of things that could go wrong when anglers move a fish," she said.
Kepple said the relocation of the bass to near Gray Reef may not have caused ecological problems, but that Game and Fish was concerned enough about any violation of the law to offer the reward.
The incident was the third time this year that fish have apparently been illegally introduced to Casper-area waterways. In August, an angler reported catching a South American Oscar and a large goldfish in Harry Yesness Pond, and in April, a 4-pound, 21-inch female walleye was caught in the same location.
Anyone who has any information about these illegally stocked fish, or any other wildlife violation, is being asked to contact the Stop Poaching tip line at 877-WGFD-TIP. Tips can also be reported online at http://gf.state.wy.us/wildlife/enforcement/stoppoaching/submitTip.aspx. Informants can choose to remain anonymous.