BEAR LAKE, Utah (ABC4) — It has scales, two eyes and fins. What is it? It’s a true sign that spring is in full swing, that Utahns are hitting the lakes, and that Utah streams are in good health. It is better known as the Bear Lake Cutthroat Trout.

Recently, the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources released 107,000 Bear Lake cutthroat trout into Bear Lake at North Beach (Idaho). While the young fish are only about 7 inches long at the time of their release, that won’t be the case for long. “These are really some of the monsters of the west when it comes to cutthroat trout,” Chris Penne stated.

Chris Penne is the northern region aquatics program manager for the Division of Wildlife Resources. He explained that the release of the cutthroat trout is an annual event, and while small at the time of their release, the fish may soon grow longer than 30 inches and surpass 20 pounds. He added: “It’s really one of the things that makes fishing great at that lake.”

As the name suggests, Bear Lake cutthroat trout are native to the area and are the top predators in the lake. “Basically, these predators are what help keep the ecosystem in balance,” Penne explained. “And this is a pretty important thing for a place like Bear Lake, because in Bear Lake, we’ve got about four different species that are found nowhere else in the world.” Essentially, the trout help keep the other species of fish from exploding in population.  

Penne told ABC4 that for decades, the states of Utah and Idaho, as well as private landowners, have been working together to restore streams and rivers in the Bear Lake area. He further explained: “All these tributaries are their natural spawning habitat. In the 90s, it was noticed that they were starting to get pretty degraded, and we had to stock a lot more fish than we do now.”

The trout that the Division of Wildlife Resources releases into Bear Lake are spawned in nearby water sources. The eggs are collected and raised in a hatchery for about a year until it is time to release them back into the lake. However, over the last 30 years, the rehabilitation of streams and rivers means more fish are naturally spawning on their own. In fact, Penne said about half of the current population in the lake spawned naturally. As this continues to increase, the number of fish DWR must release every year into the lake will decrease. “The number that we’re stocking now is really about a third of what we used to stock, and what it is really indicative of is the success rehabilitating those streams as nursery and spawning habitat,” Penne stated.