Tiger trout to prowl Phillips Reservoir

By Dick Mason, The Observer January 29, 2011 01:57 pm
Tigers will be introduced to Northeast Oregon later this year, but no protests from ranchers or hunters will be staged.

Look instead for inquisitive looks and large smiles from anglers.


The new life form set to be introduced is the tiger trout, which will be planted in Phillips Reservoir, about 60 miles southwest of La Grande, by the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife in late September or October.

Tiger trout are a cross between brook and brown trout. Named for its striking stripes, the fish will be added to Phillips Reservoir to enhance a trout fishery that perch are ruining. Perch were illegally planted in the reservoir about 30 years ago and have since proliferated. Today perch are out-competing rainbow trout at Phillips Reservoir. Rainbow trout at Phillips tend to be small because of this.

It is believed tiger trout will not compete for the same food sources as perch. In fact, tiger trout may benefit from the perch since they will likely feed on them, said Tim Bailey, a La Grande District ODFW fisheries biologist.

Tiger trout, which are naturally occurring in the eastern United States, are more like brown than brook trout in terms of feeding habits, Bailey said. He explained that they feed primarily on other fish.

The intent of the future tiger release at Phillips is to give anglers a chance to land trophy trout. About 10,000 tiger trout will be planted this fall in Phillips Reservoir, but it will be at least a year before anglers will find out how they taste. Anglers will be able to keep only large tiger trout, a size that will be determined later. All others they pull in will have to be released, said Bailey, who spoke about the planned introduction recently at a meeting in La Grande of the Union/Wallowa counties chapter of the Oregon Hunters Association.

Tiger trout are sterile and have been been planted in many lakes in Wyoming, Utah and Washington. None have been released in Oregon. Bailey said they have done well in lakes from low elevations up to 10,000 feet.

Anglers must use different strategies to land them since they feed primarily early in the day and early in the evening. Rainbows by contrast feed throughout the day.

The tiger trout bound for Phillips Reservoir are now being raised at the ODFW’s Klamath Hatchery near Klamath Falls.

Tiger muskies

Phillips Reservoir may also have a second tiger in the near future — the tiger muskie. The ODFW hopes to release tiger muskies into the reservoir in the near future. The tiger muskies would be planted in an attempt to control the perch population, Bailey said.

Tiger muskies eat perch and have been used in lakes throughout the Untied States as a biological control for problem fish. Tiger muskies presently cannot be released in Oregon’s waters, but the ODFW is attempting to get an exception granted for Phillips Reservoir.

The muskies planted would be about two inches. Tiger muskies grow to lengths of 30 to 40 inches.

A tiger muskie fishery would later be established at Phillips Reservoir, but it would be primarily limited to catch and release. Only very big muskies of a size to be determined later could be kept.

The tiger muskie would provide the ODFW with a second means of reducing the perch population at Phillips Reservoir. It already is using mechanical nets to remove perch. They are netted when they come near shore in late winter and early spring to spawn. The ODFW netted 47,000 perch in 2009 and 337,000 in 2010. The fish are being provided to local farmers as fertilizer.

Draw downs

Bailey also discussed fisheries in Union and Wallowa county lakes during his presentation. A portion of his presentation focused on the periodical draw-downs at Thief Valley, which wipe out all its fish. Thief Valley was drawn down completely four or five times between 2000 and 2007.

The ODFW responded to this problem by beginning a fall stocking program in 2008. The agency did so because this gives the fish the opportunity to grow into legal-sized fish by early spring.

The ODFW fish liberation truck brings 30,000 six-inch rainbow trout to Thief Valley Reservoir in the fall and 30,000 three-inch trout in the spring. The six-inch trout stocked in the fall grow about three inches over the winter.

Contrary to what some anglers believe, a complete draw-down every five to 10 years can actually help a fishery. Bailey explained that draw-downs cleanse the reservoir of the suckers and northern pike minnows that enter the reservoir via the Powder River. Northern pike and suckers both compete with rainbows for food, limiting the growth of trout. Northern pike are also a problem because they eat rainbow trout.

High lakes

Fisheries in the high lakes of the Wallowas and the Elkhorns were addressed in the second half of Bailey’s presentation

The biologist said that 16 lakes in the Wallowas and Elkhorns are now being stocked by the ODFW with rainbow trout. The success of the stocking programs is being closely examined.

Maintaining rainbow trout fisheries in the lakes is challenging because many have resident brook trout populations. The brook trout eat young rainbows and compete with them for food.

Brook trout are able to reproduce in the high lakes of the Wallowas and Elkhorns, but few if any of the lakes have self-sustaining rainbow populations. The ODFW, Bailey said, would like to keep rainbows in the lakes to add diversity for anglers.