I went to Chopaka about two weeks ago with an old college buddy and was successful fishing a stillwater nymph deep on an intermediate line.
Our drive started about 10:30 a.m. in Seattle and by the time we got there the sun was almost down over the surrounding hills. So instead of fishing right away we got camp set up, launched the boats and made sure the bar was open for business.
The next morning we got on the water at a decent hour to rising fish and caught them using chironomids fished vertically, long lined and with an indicator. We finally decided the bigger fish seemed to respond best to a stillwater nymph as it was being pulled off the bottom in 20-25 feet with an intermediate line. I did notice a few fish appeared thin but there were also some healthy fish released.
If the lake was over stocked all of the fish would be skinny, the smaller fish in there right now have small heads and big bodies, a sign of good forage in the lake. I've fished Chopaka for about thirty years now and in the "good old days" you could let the wind blow you from the south end to the campground and almost constantly see fish. We're not even close to that right now. Take a look at the stocking record since the rehab, there's been about 12,000 to 14,000 fish planted in there and some of those (maybe half) are about to hit the end of their life.
Chopaka has always had big headed skinny big fish. Those are the 14"+ fish they stocked right after it was rehabbed. Most of the stocks that WDFW uses have a 5 year life span (if they make it that long), so a couple of tough years in the hatchery plus a couple years in the lake equals about time to die.
WDFW considered leaving the lake fallow for a year because they were worried that the bass had cropped the invertebrates down too much. Chironimids and mayflies have multiple broods per year, so far with less fish present than during the bass days plus a couple of summers equals plenty of food. The good condition 18" fish are from the first fry plant after the rehab. They are about 3 years old and within the next year or so will look like big headed skinny big fish as they reach the end of their life span. But what do I know, I've only been a fish biologist for the last 32 years.
I remember a guy who went to Canada goose hunting with us. He got real vocal complaining that the geese weren't big enough (young of the year birds) and there were too many of them. I suggested he stop shooting them. He didn't of course.
I'm also reminded of some of our patients in the VA hospital inpatient treatment program. They complained the food wasn't good enough and they weren't getting enough of it. We suggested they ask for double portions which they always did.
Bob, I am not trying to second guess the experts but my experience is different than what you describe. When I started fishing the lake back in the mid 90's we landed fish up to 24" that were shaped like footballs, but we weren't catching nearly the numbers per day as we have since the rehab. I wish my fishing skills have improved that much, but I don't think that is the case. Maybe as the fingerling plants replace the plant of larger fish used to jump start the rehab we will see the condition of the larger fish improve. Or maybe my memory is exaggerated and the lake has never had the feed to support the larger fish............. I'll let you know next Fall............
Karl, I don't believe expressing concern is the same as complaining. Don't make me get out my dictionary..............
I believe that prior to the rehab Chopaka was stocked with triploids, whereas post rehab WDFW decided to not to stock them. That may account for the absence of the footballs recently. I fished the lake the week of Labor Day for the first time and the fish did not appear snakey to me. I did catch a lot more fish in the eight-to-twelve inch range than those over twelve inches.
Just give the lake some time. Back in the 80's you could see fish that looked like small chinook. Catching them was a different story but you could occasionally. Remember, for those that fished it back before the bass started taking over, which was about 92 or 93, if you knew how to fish the lake, catching a lot of fish a day was not a problem and that occasional fish up to 24 inches was always a potential. I've run into a lot of people that even in the glory days had a hard time cacthing fish. We did have a lot of good fish fries with bass during that time. Ahh, appetizers with cocktail hour.
I haven't found any information that says Chopaka was ever rehabbed before and I know they stocked lots of different strains of fish in there over the years so maybe they will start stocking the longer lived fish instead of the standard put and take fish.
My wife learned how to fly fish Chopaka after we got married, so she's spoiled. The first year she didn't catch a fish under 15 inches, the lake was already in decline but she didn''t know it. She loved those triploids they stocked at the end. We didn't catch more than 12 or 15 a day but they were all 21 inches plus. By the way we just happened to find the right spot out of the whole lake, you couldn't find them anywhere else, we know, we fished the heck out of the lake that year, and it's still a good spot.
Those eight to twelve inch fish are last falls plant, by next spring they will be ten to fourteen inches. Those eighteen inchers will be pushing twenty.
There are a couple of terms that you might want to know about the fish biologists use. One is fishing mortality, those fish lost from any fishing action, whether it is taking the fish for dinner, to poor handling on the release (it can happen to any of us), to poaching. Then there is always natural mortality, which can be old age or the skill of the ospreys and eagles up there, or disease, and the list goes on.