This is the first time tiger muskie (a sterile cross between muskellunge and northern pike) has been introduced into Oregon waters and according to Tim Bailey, ODFW fish biologist, this top-tier predator should help control the runaway yellow perch population that has decimated the trout fishery in Phillips Reservoir.
“Tiger muskie have been used elsewhere in the United States to help restore trout fisheries threatened by an over-abundant, competitive species,” he said. “Because both muskie and northern pike co-exist with yellow perch in their native environment, and feed on them heavily, we expect they’ll eat large numbers of yellow perch in Phillips.”
The 5-inch long tiger muskie came from the Wyoming Fish and Game Department, and ODFW biologists released the fish in several parts of the reservoir. Even at just 5-inches long, the fish already are highly piscivorous (fish-eating) and Bailey expects the tiger muskie to begin feeding on young perch almost immediately.
Illegal introduction of yellow perch decimates trout fishery
During the 1970s and 1980s, Phillips Reservoir was the region’s most popular trout fishery, averaging nearly 38,000 angler trips a year and trout that were 14 to 16-inches long. It also was an important economic driver in Baker County generating almost $1.5 million a year in economic activity.
However, the illegal introduction of yellow perch in the late 1980s or early 1990s had a decimating impact on the trout fishery as the perch out-competed trout for large zooplankton, a major food source for both species. Today, 77 percent of the fish in Phillips Reservoir are small yellow perch and the annual number of angler visits had plummeted to only 3,100 in 2010.
State, county and community develop restoration plan
In 2008 the Baker County Commission appointed an Advisory Committee to work with ODFW to develop and conduct an angler preference survey for Phillips Reservoir. The survey results showed a clear preference for a trout fishery, and ODFW staff and Committee members began to develop a game plan for controlling the perch population and restoring trout numbers.
According to Bailey, restoring the trout fishery in Phillips would not be as simple as poisoning the perch with rotenone or another fish toxicant and starting over. The reservoir’s complexity, the number of perch and its tolerance for rotenone called for a different solution.
“With the help of local anglers and members of the Advisory Committee we developed a multi-step plan for how to proceed,” he said.
That plan included:
- Replacing fingerling-size stocked trout with larger catchable trout in 2004.
- Introducing the aggressive, predatory tiger trout to create a trophy fishery in 2011.
- The mechanical removal of yellow perch using trap nets. Since 2009 over 240,000 pounds of yellow perch have been removed.
- Introduction of a top-line predator, tiger muskie, to prey directly on yellow perch in 2013.
Future tiger muskie fishery?
In their native range, tiger muskie reach prodigious size and are popular with anglers. In Phillips Reservoir, the harvest of tiger muskie will not be allowed – at least until they become well-established.
“Right now, the primary reason to have tiger muskie in Phillips Reservoir is to help control yellow perch populations,” Bailey said.