It’s clear that nature’s dewatering of California this year will leave the trout that can be found skittish and stressed. I suppose that only the most thoughtful fishermen will leave them well enough alone as the summer wears on, or perhaps cross to the dark side of warm water species.
Opening Day may mark the beginning of the few weeks during which decent trout fishing may be found not too far away, while fish mortality is at a minimum. After that, it’s unlikely you’ll find solitude at a high alpine stream, creek or lake. The same climate change pushing wildlife to higher altitudes will similarly affect their human hunters.
This summer and fall — when still-flowing rivers will only offer skinny water — will be seasons of small fly rods and even smaller flies. A few small wild trout fisheries I hold dear (and of which I also hold a delusion that only I know about them) won’t withstand much molestation, meaning I’ll also be somewhere else.
It’s been proposed that “heroic measures” will be needed to save California’s salmon runs. As the weather warms up and naturally flowing water is scarce, it’ll be just as heroic to leave alone those fish that have nowhere else to go.
Opening day of the general trout season in California is this Saturday.
But I won’t be on the water. I will instead sacrifice the first opportunity to be skunked on my favorite stream for the greater good. (Very Vulcan of me, right?)
The first two years after I picked up a fly rod — some seven years ago — I would start preparing for the new trout opener a few weeks after the closing of the previous season.
I do still care about the trout opener. It opens wading access on the west slope of the Sierra usually long before the passes to the eastside are cleared. Being on the water at the earliest legal minute had become tradition. Even back when I was throwing hardware, it wasn’t about filling the freezer; it was simply about being out there, working the rust out of skills unused during the winter. Four seasons ago I accepted the invite of a fellow forum contributor to join him opening day in chasing down backcountry trout. He would provide the four-wheel drive truck, I provided flies. It was a day filled with good friendship, great weather and beautiful country unseen by most. Unfortunately, any trout that may have been in the half dozen streams we visited remained unseen.
The biggest influence in my changed opening day perspective is also one of the bigger rewards that have come with fly fishing. Notwithstanding the excitement of a big Eagle Lake rainbow taking me into my backing, I’ve find an unquantifiable pleasure in helping bring others into the sport. My contributions to the club’s novice fly fishing class aren’t huge, but the enthusiasm imparted by the instructors, including myself visibly, sparks something in the students. The payoff often comes a few weeks or months later, when one of those students, all smiles, presents a photo of the fish caught because of something learned in class.
So, while I’m not retired, but I’ve become one of those guys for whom the trout opener only marks the point in time that most trout water is wide open to fishing. I’m lucky enough to have a place in the Sierra foothills available to me most any time, and I have grown content to head up the week after the opener, often to find welcome solitude on most rivers and streams. I have also taken to the challenge of finding the ‘smarter’ fish left behind after the crowds of opening day.
When I finally do make that first cast for trout this year, it’ll be later, but for good reason.
Chances are that in the sordid noble history of nearly all fly fishermen, trout were caught, cleaned and eaten. It’s just as likely that these fish were born in a hatchery, raised in concrete runways and trucked to that river, stream, or lake from which they were plucked.
Writing without the encumbrances of real journalism, I can can step out on a limb and offer definitive word that nearly all of the stocked rainbow trout in California soon could be triploids. Yup, them fish that should be asterisk’d in any claim of a record.
Hatchery Upwelling Jars
Shifting to triploids by 2014 is the goal, according to California Department of Fish & Game’s Dr. William T. Cox*, Program Manager: Fish Production and Distribution, thanks in part to the 2006 lawsuit filed by the Pacific Rivers Council and the Center for Biological Diversity claiming that CA DFG’s fish stocking did not comply with the California Environmental Quality Act. The nut of the lawsuit was the impact of stocked trout upon anadromous fish populations and other native aquatic species.
While the resulting hatchery environmental impact reports called for the protection of steelhead in anadromous waters below rim dams, CA DFG will expand rainbow triploid production to approximately 90% of the state’s stocking program. The few exceptions will include Eagle Lake, an understandably unnamed southern Sierra source of Kamloops Junction Rainbow broodstock, and hatchery broodstock that will be placed in certain waters when three to four years old.
Triploids aren’t new to California. They were first brought in from out-of-state suppliers, such as Sumner, Wash.-based Troutlodge, then reared in CA DFG hatcheries. The department later developed its own program, with a single apparatus and borrowing methodology from other states that have had success with trout triploidy. This single apparatus was trucked up and down the state, following the spawning of the different rainbow strains.
That will change near the end of this month when additional triploidy pressure shocking machines should arrive from Europe, allowing for the placement of two machines at the Mt. Shasta Hatchery and single machines at the San Joaquin Hatchery and Hot Creek Hatchery. (You can get a good, easy-to-understand outline of triploids and their production at Get Hooked.)
There Be No Monsters Here (and Good News for Natives?)
It seems you can set aside concerns that genetically engineered monster rainbows will be dumped into California waters. These triploid trout will be still be stocked when ½ to ¾ of a pound. (Trivia: The size of trout stocked by CA DFG rose to a target of ½ pound when the general daily limit on trout was reduced to five, from 10 fish. Before that, stocked trout often were smaller.)
Although mandated by 2005’s Assembly Bill 7 — now California Fish and Game Code §13007 — and not directly related to the PRC/CBD lawsuit, Dr. Cox expressed hope that up to 25% of CA DFG’s stocked fish will be heritage species (in terms of numbers) by 2012-13. State hatcheries currently raise Eagle Lake Rainbow (Oncorhynchus mykiss aquilarum), Lahonton Cutthroat (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi), California (or Volcano Creek) Golden Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita) and Steelhead (Oncorhynchus mykiss).
A fifth heritage trout species should be in production by January 2012. Spelled out in the California Fish & Game Commission’s Current Issues Fall 2010 document are plans to upgrade the infrastructure at the Kern River Hatchery for the production of the native Kern River Rainbow Trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss gilberti). Dr. Cox said that Kern River rainbow broodstock should be collected this fall. Long-term plans include the possibility of rearing Lahontan cutthroat trout for the Lake Tahoe basin restoration.
Regardless of one’s opinion of stocked trout, it’s fair to say that those with boots on the ground in California’s hatcheries honestly aim to better the angling experience. Here’s to hoping.
* Yes, he’s a fisherman who spent much of last month fly fishing in Wyoming and Montana.