Efforts to re-establish a viable fishery in Lake Altus-Lugert will continue after recent sampling efforts that show the lake has not recovered from two deadly golden algae blooms.
"We are doing everything we can, because it is our highest priority," said Larry Cofer, southwest region fisheries supervisor for the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation.
Most of the aquatic wildlife in the lake was killed in the winter of 2012-13 as a result of a golden algae bloom that produced deadly toxins.
"It killed virtually every fish in the lake," Cofer said. "In this case, it left us with nothing, and we had to start over from scratch."
But there is reason for cautious optimism, he said. With record rainfall in May, a depleted Altus-Lugert has been refilled with fresh water. The lake held about 10 percent.
Signs were placed at Lake Altus-Lugert after the deadly golden algae bloom in the winter of 2012-13 asking visitors to help stop the spread of the invasive species. (Larry Cofer/ODWC) of its capacity just a month ago, but now it is about a half-foot above normal. Also, the salt content of the lake's water is now the lowest recorded since the initial golden algae bloom. Salty water is one condition that enables golden algae blooms.
"We're hoping that now when we stock fish -- forage fish first and then predators -- that we can get this thing to come back," Cofer said. "With the better water, we're hopeful for better results."
But the threat posed by golden algae in Altus-Lugert will remain there forever. "We'll never know when the golden algae is going to strike again," Cofer said. "It could be 20 years, or maybe never again."
Currently, no restrictions on fishing are in place at Altus-Lugert, but that could change when the Department is able to get forage fish and sport fish populations established. "If things started to go in our favor today, it's still going to take three years before fishing is available, because fish take time to mature," Cofer said.
Fisheries Division Chief Barry Bolton said the Wildlife Department will continue to monitor the situation at Altus-Lugert and make management recommendations as information becomes available.
"We are committed to make Altus-Lugert a fishing destination," he said. "We want to keep trying to restore that fishery."
After the initial golden algae bloom, biologists developed a plan to address the lake's future. In 2013, the Department began stocking the lake with shad and sunfish, so that a good forage base could be established. Cofer said minnows began to return to the lake on their own. When it appeared that a solid population of forage fish was present, the Department began stocking largemouth bass, crappie, walleye and channel catfish, Cofer said.
By spring 2014, biologists were encouraged by sampling results obtained by electrofishing and gill netting. Results showed a record number of channel catfish in the lake. It appeared that Altus-Lugert, a 6,400-acre impoundment in the Quartz Mountains of Greer and Kiowa counties, was recovering.
According to schedule, another round of fish sampling was conducted this May. Unfortunately, the sampling results showed that another golden algae bloom had struck in summer 2014, rendering the lake virtually lifeless again.
"Obviously we were disappointed and depressed, because we'd put a lot of work into restoring that lake," Cofer said. "So, we're starting from scratch again this year."