By ERIC BARKER
The Lewiston Tribune
Deer Creek Reservoir had been on Aaron Lougee’s to-visit list for some time.
Lougee’s grandfather had worked in the area as a Potlatch Corp. logger decades ago, and the Lewiston man had heard about the tiger trout there which have regularly been setting state records for more than a year.
When he visited during a four-wheeler trip to the remote Clearwater County country on May 16, he was impressed.
“I couldn’t believe how beautiful it was in person,” he said.
Lougee and his friends ran into some Idaho Department of Fish and Game biologists tagging fish at the lake. One of them said something which would end up being prescient.
“He said right to my face ‘There’s a state record out there for you.’”
They fished and had some luck, but no record beaters. Lougee returned two days later to try again. On his eighth cast, he hit pay dirt. Lougee said he was using a new rod and reel combo and an artificial lure, the name of which he is keeping secret.
“He came shooting up out of the bottom,” Lougee said of the golden-sided trout. “He came right to 3 or 4 inches (of the lure) and acted like he was going to get it.”
But the fish stalled and seemingly had second thoughts.
“I pulled it away from him right when I did that, and he said ‘Nope, I’m going to take it.’”
The surface strike was like the illustrations that used to adorn the covers of magazines like Outdoor Life.
“He came up right to the surface, just bright and shiny golden,” Lougee said. “As soon as I pulled it away, he went and got it. It was like something you would see in a piece of art or something.”
Lougee landed it and put a tape measure along its side. The fish measured 22 inches and would later weigh in at 4.04 pounds.
“I knew it was a state record,” he said. “I had checked to see, and I know Rick Miller.”
That is Rick Miller of Orofino, who set the state tiger trout record almost a year ago when he landed a 19-inch, 2.65 pound tiger trout.
The small reservoir, created in 2004, has been awarding anglers with state records for more than a year. Miller’s catch during the 2017 edition of the Deer Creek Reservoir Fishing Derby broke a record set just a few weeks earlier.
Tiger trout are new to both the reservoir and Idaho. Idaho Fish and Game stocked the reservoir with the fish in 2013 after it was given surplus eggs by the Wyoming Game and Fish Department. Those first plants were fingerlings. The agency later started producing its own tiger trout at the Mackay Fish Hatchery and released “catchable” sized trout there in the following years.
Robert Hand, a fisheries biologist for the department in Lewiston, said he’d like the tiger trout to keep the reservoir’s golden shiner population in check. The bait fish native to the southern United States was illegally planted in the lake around 2006, quickly exploded and threatened to suppress all other fish species there.
The agency twice chemically treated the water in an effort to eradicate the species, but it came back both times. Hand said it’s possible the tiger trout, a sterile cross between brook trout and brown trout, will ultimately help depress shiners. Tiger trout are predatory and aggressive.
The jury is out on how well that is working. Hand said the reservoir is still teeming with shiners.
“It seems like the tiger trout are eating a lot of them but not necessarily having an impact on the population of shiners,” he said.
But the shiners are providing a reliable food base for tiger trout, which can grow to massive sizes. The state record tiger trout in Utah tipped the scales at 19 pounds, 2 ounces. Given that and the healthy shiner population, Hand said it’s likely Deer Creek will continue to set records.
“As fast as we are seeing some of these tiger trout growing from eating the golden shiners, I would expect we are going to see some records come out of there over the next few years.”
He said many people, including fisheries biologists, have reported seeing tiger trout larger than Lougee’s swimming in the reservoir.
“I would not be surprised if it’s broken again this year,” he said.