May 2021 - 42

A history of
fishing pressure

The State Fish Hatchery in Laramie was the first hatchery in Wyoming and was built in the late 1800s. (WGFD photo)

The interior of the State Fish Hatchery in Laramie from the biennial report of the Wyoming Game and Fish Commission in
the 1800s. Hatcheries were built in Wyoming to help raise fish due to overfishing of wild populations. (WGFD photo)

is lower, algae and sediment accumulate and water
could get too warm.
A change in water temperature is the main trigger
for spawning. As water warms in the spring, it prompts
a hormonal response in spring spawners that causes
them to become more vibrantly hued and to reproduce. Likewise in the fall, as the water cools down, a
hormonal response tells fall spawners to do their part
perpetuating their species.
Interestingly, not all fish of the same species spawn
at the same time. If that cutthroat trout you caught
on a backpacking trip last summer was colored up,
it's because spring comes late at a high-elevation tarn,
which might be ice-free for three months per year.
" Spring to a fish is not necessarily April or May, "
Hahn said, " Spring might be July 10 in the Wind
River Range. Even in the same drainage, cutthroats
at lower elevations might spawn two months ahead. "
42 | May 2021	

You might think the more successful fish are at
spawning, the more fish are in the water to catch.
That's not always true. It depends on what predators
are in the water that feed on the fish eggs and small
fry, how much forage is available and how much
fishing pressure there is.
During the first half of the 1800s there were no
fishing regulations. To early settlers in the Wyoming
Territory, fish were on par with land animals as an
important food source to be obtained in the most
efficient ways, even with explosives or poison. In
1869 the territorial legislature enacted its first fishing
regulations which stated legal fishing tackle needed
to be hook and line, though there was no mention
of a specific fishing season or bag limits.
" Fishing in Wyoming Territory apparently was very
good. While camped for three weeks in the Tongue
River valley (near Sheridan) in July 1876, General
Crook's soldiers caught an estimated 15,000 trout,
mostly on grasshoppers. When the command moved
on, they had enough smoked and salted trout packed
in barrels to last many days, " wrote Robert Wiley, a
former Game and Fish fisheries biologist in a 1993
administrative report, " Wyoming Fish Management,
1869-1993. "
Without management and with so much fishing pressure, within another decade Wyoming was
essentially out of fish. In 1882 a fish commission
was established that implemented regulations to
improve fish populations, many of which centered
around spawning fish. The new regulations allowed
angling from June through October but prohibited it
from November to May, mainly to protect spawning
fish and to give newly-hatched fry a chance to grow.
Nighttime fishing was prohibited because that's when
many fish move into the shallows to feed and spawn.
The first creel limit was based on total weight, up to
20 pounds of fish per day, regardless of the species.
" Habitat got pounded, " said David Zafft, Game
and Fish fisheries management supervisor. " By the
end of the 1800s, there were few fish left in many
Wyoming waters due to overfishing or because their
habitat was destroyed by dams and diversions. As a
result, the first fish commission and first hatchery
were established in Wyoming. It was the start of a
huge stocking era. "
In 1890 Wyoming became the 44th state of the
United States. Just before and during its early statehood, thousands of fish and a variety of species were
brought in by wagon or train. The over-arching philosophy of fisheries management was to dump lots
of fish into waterways, at first with the goal of 2,500
fish per acre.


May 2021

Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of May 2021

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