Pelican Lake Restoration Project: Bringing Back The Bluegill

Sep 30, 2019

Not long ago, Pelican Lake, roughly between Vernal and Deschene, was full of bluegill fish and bass.

“There are not many places in the United State where you can grow two-pound bluegills, and when you see them, they’re phenomenal,”, said Natalie Boren, a regional fisheries biologist with Utah Division of Wildlife Resources working on a project to restore Pelican Lake to its historical greatness. The plan was to restalk the lake with 80,000 bluegill fish from Arkansas. 

As a child, Boren remembers catching bluegills too big to hold in her hand.

“There is nothing better than taking your kids out - family, friends - out for a day on Pelican Lake and being able to catch just hundreds of bluegill and hundreds of bass, and that was not uncommon in our past," she said. "For our area, this is a big draw. The historic Pelican Lake was bringing in people from all over the country."

Populations of bluegill declined after an invasion of carp in 2008 and 2009.  Carp have a significant impact on the water clarity and vegetation in the water, making it difficult for other fish to thrive.

“Bass and bluegill are sight feeders - they need to be able to see and have some decently clear water to be able to see, feed and grow," Boren said. "Once carp got into our location, they started rooting up plants and vegetation. We lost an incredible amount of macrophytes - aquatic vegetation - and we lost the bugs that went with them, and we lost zoo plankton numbers.  Our water quality here was just terrible."

After a rotenone treatment to remove the carp was completed, the water clarity of Pelican Lake improved significantly, making the lake suitable for bluegill reintroduction. Last week, about 80,000 bluegill underwent a 3-day journey from Arkansas to Pelican Lake in a hatchery truck with 8 massive water tanks.

Boren hopes the bluegill will be able to thrive in Pelican Lake, and with enough time, they can grow to be the giants they once were.