By Scott Rochat Longmont Times-Calltimescall.comLONGMONT -- Burch Lake is about to become muskie territory. But don't reach for that rod.
These fish aren't for catching.
Colorado Parks and Wildlife plans to use the Longmont lake to start its first breeding population of the large, ugly fish known as muskellunge. The lake itself is off-limits to public fishing, but the fish in it will be used to breed tiger muskies, which will then be stocked in lakes and reservoirs across Colorado.
Tiger muskies are a popular sporting fish in the state, a hybrid of muskellunge and northern pike. But they're a sterile hybrid, which means Colorado has to import the fish from other states -- when it can.
"Our main source is Pennsylvania and their brood stock has a disease,"
said Ben Swigle, an aquatic biologist for Colorado Parks and Wildlife. "We haven't been able to import their tiger muskies for five years now. So we want to breed our own fish, so we don't have to rely on that situation."
It can take four or five years for a muskellunge female to mature, Swigle said, so it'll be a while before the state knows whether this has paid off.
"There's no guarantee this is going to work," he said, "but we'll give it a shot."
Several shots, actually. One muskellunge female can produce around 20,000 eggs for every two pounds of body weight. So when the time comes, the wildlife division will only have to catch one or two in a season to satisfy the statewide demand. The fish will be taken from the lake to an offsite hatchery, along with northern pike from another site, so that the eggs can be fertilized and incubated.
Burch lake is owned by the Oligarchy Irrigation. The city holds a majority share of the company.
State wildlife authorities plan to start with 1,500 muskellunge. Because of the drought, stocking will wait until after irrigation season, likely not beginning until late fall.
There's also going to be a little work needed to get ready for Burch's newest residents -- namely, some screening of the reservoir's outlet to make sure the fish can't leave on their own.
"The last thing we want is for the fish to get into our waterways," said Dan Wolford, Longmont's parks, open space and greenways manager.
Muskellunge would be considered a primary predator in almost any Colorado waters, Swigle said. However, he said, the risk of escape is already low and the fish don't have good spawning areas east of Longmont -- the region is too warm and doesn't have enough vegetation.
Swigle emphasized that leaving the muskellunge in Burch Lake alone now will mean much better fishing everywhere later. On top of that, he said, would-be poachers might find themselves with a tougher task than they realize, even if they do evade the lake's "neighborhood watch."
"They are known as a fish of five thousand casts," Swigle chuckled.
Scott Rochat can be reached at 303-684-5220
FREE 303-684-5220 end_of_the_skype_highlighting or firstname.lastname@example.org.