Bringing Back Bonneville Cutthroats on Fish Haven Creek

Written by: Chris Hunt, TU Director of Communications

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The big Bear Lake Bonneville cutthroat trout is one of the West’s largest-growing native trout.

photo courtesy Trout Unlimited

One of the next projects to get under way thanks to funding from the Orvis/TU 1,000 Miles Campaign is in a small Idaho tributary stream to Bear Lake, a large natural lake situated on the Utah-Idaho border about 100 miles north of Salt Lake City.

Fish Haven Creek is aptly named—it provides important spawning water for Bear Lake’s big Bonneville cutthroat trout, some of the largest-growing native cutthroats in the West. Every spring, “bonnies” charge out of Bear Lake into tributary streams like Fish Haven Creek, where they spawn the next generation of big cutthroats.

Unfortunately, the upper reaches of Fish Haven Creek are off limits to these native trout, thanks to a “perched” culvert, which halts the migration a bit short. This summer, thanks in part to funding from Orvis and the 1,000 Miles Campaign, that faulty fish barrier will be removed, opening up two additional miles of spawning habitat that have been off limits to Bear Lake’s native trout for decades.

2012-08-03 Fish Haven Creek_culvert to be replaced(2)

This perched culvert is undersized, particularly during the high flows of spring when Bear Lake’s big Bonneville cutthroat trout are spawning. During high water, the culvert acts like a firehose, squeezing snowmelt through its mouth at a velocity that makes it impossible for migrating fish to
move upstream. The culvert will be removed in the summer of 2013.

photo courtesy Trout Unlimited

These fish are some of the last “adfluvial” (fish that live in lakes but spawn in tributary streams) Bonnevilles left in their native range, and for generations, they were limited to the extreme lower reaches of Fish Haven Creek when it came time to spawn. In recent years, TU has worked with a number of partners, including landowners and agencies in both Utah and Idaho to remove seven migration barriers on Fish Haven Creek. The first year after all seven barriers were removed or repaired, 62 spawning redds were identified in Fish Haven Creek. Removing this culvert will give migrating fish even more spawning habitat to choose from the next time they migrate.

And that means more fish will move into Bear Lake in the years to come, and more anglers will have the chance to catch one of these massive native trout from the aqua-green waters of this one-of-kind lake.

Fish Haven Map

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