It flourishes in cool water conditions where there is less healthy green algae and in lakes with higher salt content. The lack of rain also can concentrate nutrients in the water that increase the odds for toxic blooms, but there is no way to predict when they will happen.
Golden algae can be present without producing the toxic blooms that are deadly to fish. It is in the Red River and possibly other southwest Oklahoma lakes where fish kills haven't happened, Gilliland said.
“We don't know all the pieces of the puzzle,” Gilliland said. “We don't know how it spreads.”
State wildlife officials worry about golden algae spreading to other Oklahoma lakes. They recommend that boats be drained and dried before moving from one lake to another.
Basically, all lakes west of I-35 are vulnerable to golden algae. A handful of lakes east of I-35 – including Hefner, Sooner, Konawa, Keystone and Kerr – also have been identified as potentially vulnerable because of their higher salt content.
In the past, Lake Texoma has been the victim of minor fish kills from golden algae blooms. The kills were isolated to small areas on the Red River arm of the lake and mostly were non-game fish.
It is doubtful golden algae would devastate Texoma like it did Altus-Lugert, but “it could hurt it,” Gilliland said.
The fish kill at Altus-Lugert Lake began in December and continued through February.
The previous winter, golden algae blooms had killed the trout stocked in the basin below Altus-Lugert Lake. That's why the winter trout fishing area was moved to Medicine Park from Quartz Mountain.
“We kind of anticipated this, but there wasn't a lot we could do about it,” Cofer said.
Altus-Lugert Lake once offered good fishing for walleye, hybrids, crappie and blue catfish, but golden algae has killed the fish and the fishing.
“Biologically, I have never handled anything worse in my career,” Cofer said.