ST. GEORGE — Blue Ribbon Fisheries are waterbodies that provide some of Utah’s most exceptional, high-quality fishing experiences. This year, the program that designates and helps fund these fisheries allocated $450,000 toward 16 projects aimed at enhancing these waterbodies so they retain their elite status.
There are currently 44 waterbodies and two mountain areas in Utah — streams, rivers and lakes on the Uinta and Boulder mountains — that hold this Blue Ribbon status. 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. “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.
Sixteen projects were selected by the Blue Ribbon Fisheries Advisory Council this year. Some of those projects included:
Renovation of the dike at Navajo Lake: The dike at Navajo Lake is old and has deteriorated over the years, resulting in two dam failures in recent years that drained the lake and ruined the fishery. This project will help complete needed maintenance work along the embankment and rebuild the spillway and increase the size capacity to prevent future breaches.
Recreation improvements at Recapture Reservoir: This project will improve the boat ramp, install a courtesy boat dock and renovate the parking lot in an effort to provide better access for boat anglers.
Recovery analysis at Huntington Creek: The Seeley Fire in 2012 devastated the fishery at Huntington Creek. After habitat improvement projects and fish restocking, the fishery has struggled to fully recover. This project will allow biologists to complete a stream habitat assessment to see what habitat conditions are limiting the fish from reproducing in the stream.
In 2021, 19 Blue Ribbon Fisheries projects and initiatives were completed. Over the past decade, the Blue Ribbon program has funded 173 projects and allocated $3.2 million toward improving these remarkable Utah fisheries. Due to partnerships and other funding options as well, a total of $26.3 million has been put toward Blue Ribbon projects since 2012.
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