By: Robert Hand and Joe Dupont
Deer Creek Reservoir is a 75 acre lake located in Clearwater County about 10 miles north of the town of Pierce, Idaho. This reservoir has become a popular destination for anglers because of its beautiful scenery and the unique trout fishing opportunity it provides. However, getting to where we are today has not been an easy task.
Deer Creek Reservoir was built in 2003, and cutthroat trout and rainbow trout were immediately stocked in the reservoir. These fish grew extremely fast, and it was not long before anglers reported catching fish up to 20 inches. This excitement was short lived as in 2006 golden shiners were discovered in the reservoir. This fish is non-native to Idaho and can quickly overpopulate lakes and out compete trout for one of their primary food sources (zooplankton). The presence of golden shiners is concerning as they could spread downstream into Dworshak Reservoir, which supports a multi-million dollar kokanee fishery. Due to these concerns, the reservoir was rotenoned in 2006 and again in 2010 to remove these invasive fish. Despite our efforts, the golden shiners kept showing back up.
With the realization that golden shiners would be difficult to eradicate, a different management approach began with exploring how we could take advantage of them. After a thorough investigation, we decided to try stocking tiger trout (a cross between a brown trout and brook trout) into Deer Creek Reservoir. We were excited about tiger trout as they not only were reported to be a voracious predator that could prey on the golden shiners, but maybe more importantly, they were reported to be easy to catch.
We began stocking 3-inch tiger trout in Deer Creek Reservoir in the spring of 2014. Unfortunately, surveys conducted in 2014 and 2015 resulted in the capture of only a few tiger trout. We speculated that these fingerling stockings were not very successful because the golden shiners were eating most of the food resources the tiger trout needed to grow before they could get big enough to feed on the golden shiner. Thus, we decided to change strategies and began stocking larger (8-12 inches) tiger trout in June 2016.
So, how are the tiger trout doing in Deer Creek Reservoir since we changed stocking strategies? Fish surveys were conducted in the fall every year to answer that question. Our surveys in 2016 and 2017 found the tiger trout averaged almost 12 inches in length with several fish reaching 17 inches. Some of the tiger trout grew 5 inches within the first summer of being in the reservoir! Diet studies were also conducted on these fish, and to our pleasure their major food source was golden shiners. With these growth rates, it did not take long before the state record fell. In one amazing day in 2017, the state record was broken three times ending with a 19.25 inch fish. The record fell again in 2018 to a tiger trout measuring in at 22 inches. Anglers report seeing even bigger fish. Only time will tell just how big these fish can get.
To evaluate how successful anglers are at catching tiger trout, a tagging study was initiated. As you may have guessed, these fish are not hard to catch. In fact, based on the tags anglers reported, tiger trout are just as easy to catch as the stocked rainbow trout. If you are wondering how to catch them, here’s a hint. If you spend a day fishing on the reservoir, you will likely see times when schools of golden shiners leap out of the water as they try to escape a hungry tiger trout below.
As this tiger trout fishery has increased in popularity, it has become evident that if we want more of these fish to reach larger sizes, restrictive fishing rules needed to be put in place. When anglers were asked if more restrictions should be put in place to protect these fish so they could reach larger sizes, over 90% said “yes”. Based on this response, our commission has adopted a new rule for Deer Creek Reservoir, which is written as follows:
Trout limit is 6, only 2 may be tiger trout, no tiger trout under 14 inches.
So, if you are looking for a new fishing experience, you may want to venture out to Deer Creek Reservoir.