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It was once the most popular fishing hole in Idaho. Now, it's a water skiing lake. But that's not stopping the Idaho Department of Fish and Game in its efforts to restore Lake Cascade's once prolific yellow perch fishery. While the original proposal to drain the lake has been dropped, plan B is now underway.
"What we've kind of humorously called plan B, is to do a two pronged thing on Cascade," said Dale Allen, Fisheries Manager. "It's to introduce large numbers of yellow perch spawners back into the system and secondly to reduce the number of predators on the perch. The main predator is northern pike minnow, which used to be called squawfish."
This year's perch stocking effort has just been completed. Fish and Game personnel trapped and moved 100,000 adult perch from Phillips Reservoir (near Baker City, Oregon) and nearly 40,000 perch from Montpelier Reservoir in eastern Idaho. These locations were targeted for perch trapping, not only because they hold excess perch, but also because both reservoirs are at elevations similar to Cascade. Stocking efforts will continue for several years, with the idea that these fish will spawn, producing more young yellow perch than can be consumed by the current pikeminnow population.
The second half of plan B, reducing the number of pikeminnows in Lake Cascade, is now underway. Between bolstering the perch population and reducing the pikeminnow population (both to be done over a several year period), the hope is that perch will eventually "take root" in Lake Cascade, leading to the exciting fishery that once thrived there, a fishery that was an economic boon for the area and for Idaho.
"The yellow perch fishery was quite an economic gain for southwest Idaho," said Allen. "We've estimated that in it's heyday it was producing about seven million dollars of disposable income that went directly into the community and then had multiplying effects from there."
The question is, "how long will it take for the perch to come back?"
"Well, unfortunately, it will take a little while for the perch fishery to come back," said Allen. "Four years from now, four springs from now, I think we should be sitting on a pretty good group of fish that are nice-sized, eight to ten inches long. If we're successful, we'll be able to go on from that point. What we can't predict right now is how strong these first year classes are going to be and how successful that first group of fish will be. By the logic of some of the fish biology, it should come on fairly strong, but it's still going to take time for some fish to reach good size."
The perch restoration project will continue for the next few years, with Fish and Game staff constantly monitoring the progress of the perch population. If things go as planned, the perch introduced this year might just be the pioneers that ultimately put Lake Cascade back on top as Idaho's most popular fishing hole.