The Source

By Beacon Staff

Twenty years ago Rogers Lake was a mess. The lake’s popular grayling fishery had been rendered a sort of post-apocalyptic wasteland. Well, maybe it hadn’t quite reached “The Road” status, but the fishing did suck.

An illegal introduction of perch (known in outdoor circles as bucket biology) served as the apocalypse.

The perch consumed grayling fry until the population collapsed. By then the invaders so overpopulated the lake that the biggest remaining fish struggled to grow to 5 inches. So in 1992 Rogers was treated with rotenone and the perch population was wiped clean. The lake was restocked with cutthroat trout and grayling have been thriving ever since.

Thriving is probably an understatement. Each spring grayling crowd a small, unnamed stream on the lake’s east shore. The spawning fish are so numerous Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks collects eggs and incubates them at the department’s Somers hatchery. The fry are then used to stock grayling in lakes across the state.

About 80,000 of the inch-long fry are also returned to Rogers Lake. But Mark Deleray, an FWP fisheries biologist who managed the lake’s recovery in the 1990s, said he thinks the spawning fish are so prolific they’d be fine without our help.

Predators gather around the spawning run. Humans toss flies at the concentration of fish in the lake just off the inlet. Nearby a pair of bald eagles nest. The other day my daughter and I watched one bird swoop down from a snag and snatch a dying grayling that was floating on the surface near the inlet. The carnage along the creek is epic. Paw prints attest to the bears who prowl the banks. Half-eaten grayling carcasses leave no doubt why they are here.

Grayling also feed the lake’s magnificent loons.

The inlet serves as the perfect incubator for grayling, which hatch quickly and are soon washed down into the 240-acre lake. But the cutthroat are stocked. The creek dries up too quickly to support young trout.

Rogers has had grayling since the 1920s, when the fish were first introduced to the isolated, and probably fishless lake. Hopefully the sins of the past won’t be revisited and the 1992 rotenone treatment will be the last.

As he reflected on the 20-year anniversary of the restoration, Deleray reminded me of the responsibility we all share for protecting special places like Rogers.

Why has the restoration been such a success?

“No one’s messed it up,” he said.

Let’s keep it that way.

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