ST. GEORGE — Blue Ribbon Fishery: It’s a term some Utahns may not be familiar with, but one that every angler should pay close attention to, given that these waterbodies offer some of the best fishing experiences Utah has to offer.
In Southern Utah, Washington County’s Kolob Reservoir was selected as one of the newest Blue Ribbon Fisheries during the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council meeting Nov. 19. Kolob Reservoir was previously a Blue Ribbon Fishery, but lost the status after some fish species were illegally introduced there, requiring the waterbody to be treated with rotenone in 2018. It was restocked in 2019 and again this year.
There are currently 44 waterbodies in Utah that hold this elite Blue Ribbon status. Gunlock Reservoir was added to the prestigious list last year, after undergoing a lot of restoration work and a rotenone treatment to remove illegally introduced smallmouth bass.
The Blue Ribbon Fisheries program was created in 2001 by then-Gov. Mike Leavitt and was formally established in 2005 through an executive order by then-Gov. Jon Huntsman.
“The program was created because Utah’s leaders recognized that fishing is one of the state’s most popular recreational activities,” Utah Division of Wildlife Resources Sportfish Coordinator Randy Oplinger said in a press release. “There was a need to improve fisheries in Utah and to recognize the best angling opportunities in the state. This program helps fulfill both of those needs.”
In order to be named a Blue Ribbon Fishery, a waterbody has to meet several requirements and provide highly satisfying fishing and recreational experiences for diverse groups of anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. The waterbodies are selected and reviewed by the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council, which is made up of a representative committee of 13 anglers appointed by the governor.
“These waters are among the best fishing spots in Utah and have been proven to provide not only great fishing, but also ideal habitat for the fish, economic benefits to the local communities, and an overall high-quality experience in the outdoors,” Oplinger said. “They offer high fishing success rates and usually have great amenities like boat ramps and fishing piers.”
High-quality fishing waterbodies are only one important part of the Blue Ribbon Fisheries program. The program also allocates funds for improvements to help maintain that quality experience and to allow other waterbodies to reach Blue Ribbon status. The advisory council selects improvement projects for various waterbodies each year, and those projects are then funded by a portion of Utah’s annual fishing license sales.
In 2020, $450,000 went toward 22 Blue Ribbon Fisheries projects and initiatives. In 2019, $450,000 went toward 13 projects.
Since the program began, over $3.3 million has been allocated to nearly 150 projects that have been completed at various waterbodies across the state. Nearly $850,000 of this money was used to restore 236 acres of riparian habitat and more than 2,000 acres of reservoir habitat at Blue Ribbon or potential Blue Ribbon waters. Around $1.1 million has been used to secure angler access to more than 7 miles of stream corridors and nearly 6,000 acres of reservoir fishing.
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