By Evin Oneale, Regional Conservation Educator Idaho Department of Fish and Game - Southwest Region The dream of restoring Lake Cascade's once flourishing yellow perch fishery is just a bit closer, thanks to recent efforts by Idaho Fish and Game staff and the cooperation of the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife. In late March and early April, Fish and Game fisheries staff packed their bags for a three-week stint in Oregon. Enduring damp, cool weather for most of the tour, they captured thousands of yellow perch from Phillips Reservoir, near Baker City, loading the fish into hatchery trucks for transport to their new home at Cascade. "We moved 28 loads of perch total, better than one load of perch each day we trapped," Fish and Game fisheries manager Dale Allen noted. "Early in the effort, we trapped and moved 2300 pounds of perch in a single day." The fish were captured using large box traps set at strategic points around the reservoir. "The perch spawning season was underway and the fish were on the move," Allen said. "That aided us greatly in our capture efforts." Traps were checked early each morning with captured perch transferred to live wells for transport to a central holding location. From there, the perch were netted and placed in hatchery trucks for the trip to their new home. All told, the trapping and transplanting effort resulted in more than 193,000 adult perch being relocated to Cascade, with a combined weight of 32,300 pounds. Yet even with these impressive figures, the job is not done yet. "This is our second year of effort moving perch to Cascade from other waters," Allen said. "We probably will move yellow perch again next year." At one time the number one fishery in the state, Cascade's once robust yellow perch fishery inexplicably collapsed during the mid-1990s, leaving biologists scrambling for an answer as to why. A multi-year investigation revealed that a combination of predation, poor water quality and disease drastically reduced the yellow perch population over time. Rebuilding Begins Rebuilding Cascade's seven million dollar perch fishery began in 2004 when Fish and Game staff began moving perch from other waters to bolster numbers of yellow perch spawners and put a full court press on the lake's pikeminnow population. "We determined that pikeminnow were consuming nearly all the young perch produced each year," Allen explained. "If Cascade's perch fishery was to ever have a fighting chance, we knew we had to supplement the existing perch population with fish from other sources and address the pikeminnow issue at the same time." Pikeminnow were removed from Cascade in one of two ways in 2004. Box traps were set in key locations around the lake and regularly checked and emptied. A second part of the effort involved placing an electric weir in the headwaters of Lake Cascade on the North Fork of the Payette River. Pikeminnow moving upstream to spawn were unable to cross the weir and stacked up in large numbers below it. When enough pikeminnow were present, Fish and Game staff placed a fish toxicant in the river, killing thousands of adult pikeminnow in a single stroke. The endeavor produced significant results. "We estimate that our efforts in 2004 alone removed more than 15,000 pikeminnow, or about one-half of Cascade's adult pikeminnow population," Allen said. "We plan to repeat this effort in 2005 and evaluate where we are with pikeminnow numbers later this summer." The combined effort of yellow perch augmentation and pikeminnow reduction seems to have paid early dividends. Biologists documented a large number of young yellow perch in Cascade last fall, which Allen hopes will serve as the foundation for a restored yellow perch fishery. Patience Required Patience is the key for anglers chomping at the bit to see a return to the glory days of Cascade's yellow perch fishery. Remember that the yellow perch stocked this year are intended to enhance the perch population's reproductive potential, not to really improve fishing this year. "We're making progress, significant progress in terms of getting the perch fishery back on its feet, but we still have some distance to go," Allen cautioned. "The perch population has to really get rolling from a reproductive standpoint, and then those young fish have to grow to a size attractive to anglers. We have no plans to close the perch fishery at Cascade, but we encourage anglers to release any perch they catch as these fish are the foundation for rebuilding the perch fishery." In the meantime, Allen suggests anglers target Cascade's rainbow trout population. "We've got a sizeable rainbow population in the lake, with many fish in the four- to seven-pound class," Allen noted. "That fishery should keep anglers interested until the perch population is back on its feet."