Science Spotlight

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  • June 11, 2019

Lake with vegetation in foreground. Snowy mountains and green trees in background.
A long, wet winter has been good for Junction Reservoir and CDFW’s Kamloops rainbow trout that live there.

Dock on lake with small fishing boats. Mountainside with trees in background.
The June Lake Marina graciously offered up its net pens to CDFW’s Kamloops rainbow trout program when the drought forced CDFW to rescue its brood stock from a shrinking Junction Reservoir.

Two men in CDFW uniforms standing in concrete and metal structure in stream. One man is holding a large white net. Trees and patchy snow covered ground in background.
CDFW hatchery staffers Jimmy Sparks, left, and Drew Klingberg prepare to sex and sort Kamloops brood stock for later spawning, separating males from females as well as those females ready to spawn immediately versus those that need more time to ripen. The fish are returned to Junction Reservoir after spawning.

Person wearing blue gloves holding net with fish over metal basin with water.
The offspring from these Kamloops will be raised at CDFW’s Fish Springs Trout Hatchery and stocked by airplane as fingerlings into backcountry waters across the state approved for trout stocking.

Blue-gloved hands holding small fish over metal basin filled with water and fish.
Resplendent in their spring spawning colors, Kamloops rainbow are raised and bred for their hard-fighting ability and wild nature that allows them to thrive in California’s remote backcountry waters and provide a thrill for anglers who catch them.

Junction Reservoir in Mono County is CDFW’s brood lake for the Kamloops rainbow trout, a hard-fighting strain originally from the Kamloops region of British Columbia.

The 20-acre lake sits on a private cattle ranch off-limits to fishing. It provides a secluded setting for the brood stock, whose progeny are used almost exclusively for the aerial stocking of backcountry waters throughout the state.

“We try to keep them raised in a more wild condition so they do better in the wild,” said Hot Creek Trout Hatchery Manager Mike Escallier. “They are a really fun fish to catch. They jump a lot. They will jump 3 feet out of the water when you hook one.”

And Junction Reservoir has never looked better. This spring, the lake was filled to the brim after a long, cold, wet winter. Near the mouth of the lake’s one small inlet, Kamloops were staging for a spawning run, their feisty nature on full display in the clear waters, breaking the surface occasionally and fighting each other over territory.

Kamloops further up the inlet were blocked from moving upstream by a concrete and metal trap. That’s where CDFW’s hatchery staff collect and sort the fish each spring, spawning them manually to produce the offspring that will be deposited as fingerlings this summer by airplane into backcountry waters approved for stocking.

The entire scene is a welcome sight after California’s drought nearly collapsed CDFW’s backcountry fish-stocking program. During the darkest days of the drought, the small inlet feeding into Junction Reservoir dried up. Combined with the years-long shortage of rain and snow, Junction Reservoir withered to about half its size. In 2013, CDFW conducted an emergency fish rescue to save about 2,000 of the brood fish and its backcountry trout stocking program altogether.

The rescued fish were relocated to CDFW trout hatcheries and other nearby waters for safe-keeping. The owners of the June Lake Marina provided a major assist, offering up some of their net pens on June Lake to CDFW and its Kamloops at no charge. The June Lake net pens continue to hold some Kamloops, which CDFW spawns each spring until the program transitions back fully to Junction Reservoir and CDFW’s Fish Springs Trout Hatchery south of Big Pine where the baby Kamloops are raised.

CDFW returned brood fish to Junction Reservoir in the spring of 2017 following a wet winter and heavy snowpack. CDFW is rebuilding production toward its annual goal of collecting and fertilizing 1.4 million eggs. Some of the offspring are put back into Junction Reservoir to add genetic diversity and different age classes to the rebuilding brood population as no natural spawning occurs in the lake.

One benchmark hatchery managers and biologists are striving toward is the return of Kamloops to Crowley Lake, where more anglers will have a chance to enjoy them.

Before the drought wreaked havoc on CDFW’s Kamloops program, a portion of the Kamloops produced each year were allocated to Crowley Lake. While the backcountry trout are sterile – or “triploid” – the fish stocked into Crowley are “diploids” capable of spawning naturally.

“They spawn at different times than other strains of rainbow trout,” explained Escallier. “They give anglers fishing the creeks opportunity. They tend to be running up the creeks from Crowley right around the trout opener.”

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: The inlet to Junction Reservoir is blocked by a fish trap where CDFW hatchery employees catch fish in the spring for spawning.

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Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908

Categories: General
  • May 9, 2019

Closeup of man holding up fishLahontan cutthroat trout are a Crowley prize. In addition to natural spawning that occurs in the lake, CDFW plants the fish as fingerlings in the fall. By the spring opener, many like this fish are resplendent in their spawning colors.

Man in brown and beige CDFW uniform on boat bent over cooler with fish while holding a ruler in cooler. Jim Erdman conducts creel surveys to see how many trout CDFW planted last fall turn up on opening day. Fish 15 inches or longer are determined to be from last fall's stocking when they were planted as fingerlings.

Man in white t shirt, sunglasses and ball cap on beach in front of body of water holding up a fish with spots. Mark Risco from Temecula shows off the 20-inch brown trout he caught opening day at Crowley Lake. In addition to natural spawning, CDFW's Hot Creek Hatchery stocks thousands of brown trout each year, which are very popular with Crowley anglers.

Man wearing CDFW uniform, sunglasses, and green ball cap standing in dirt parking lot holding clipboard.CDFW volunteer Carl Ronk conducted opening day creel surveys at Crowley Lake along with CDFW Environmental Scientist Jim Erdman.

Mono County’s Crowley Lake is a destination fishery that attracts trout anglers of all kinds – bait fishermen, lure casters, trollers and fly anglers – throughout the state during its open season.

The sprawling lake, situated at 6,700 feet and covering some 5,300 surface acres in the Eastern Sierra, also represents a huge investment for CDFW. The nearby Hot Creek Trout Hatchery raises hundreds of thousands of rainbow, brown and Lahontan cutthroat trout for Crowley each year that provide the backbone of the quality angling experience. Many of the fish are stocked as fingerlings in the late summer or fall and grow rapidly in the invertebrate-rich environment. Some go on to spawn in the lake’s many feeder creeks and supply wild progeny to the population.

All of which helps explain why CDFW Environmental Scientist Jim Erdman has been out conducting creel surveys at Crowley every opening day since joining CDFW in 2005. Based in Bishop, Erdman’s goal is to contact at least 300 anglers and see which hatchery fish are turning up in their catch, in what numbers, in what proportion of species, and in what condition. The report is an annual check to see whether CDFW’s management plan for Crowley remains on point or whether adjustments need to be considered. The opening day creel surveys have been taking place since 1997 when CDFW biologist Curtis Milliron wrote the Crowley Lake Management Plan.

CDFW volunteer Carl Ronk assisted Erdman this past opener April 27. The two split up at times – one checking anglers along the shoreline, the other awaiting returning boats to the Crowley Lake Fish Camp marina, the only formal boat launch at the lake.

Their tools for the day included a clipboard for note-taking and a 15-inch wooden “Crowley Stick” for measuring fish. CDFW biologists have determined that a fingerling trout stocked in the fall should be 15 inches or greater by opening day in the nutrient-rich waters. Erdman typically completes and submits his report by the afternoon of the opener and shares it with anyone interested. Local papers have been known to reprint it in its entirety.

For the 2019 Crowley opener, the creel survey found shoreline angler success was greatly improved from the previous year with an average catch per angler of 3.66 trout compared to last year’s average of just 0.71 trout. Overall, however, catch rates and total catch per angler were lower than 2018. Fish size was also down. Approximately 41.4 percent of the rainbow trout measured were greater than 15 inches, well below the annual average of around 70 percent. The catch rate fell below CDFW’s management goal of one fish per angler for each hour of effort.

A long, cold winter and late ice-out were cited as factors in a slower-than usual Crowley opener and smaller fish with less time to fatten up post ice-out.

“Crowley Lake did not ice-out until April 10, 2019, and this kept fish in deeper water than usual,” Erdman wrote. “No fish were seen in the McGee, Crooked or Whiskey Creek inlets and few to no fish were seen staging for a spawning run. Water temperatures in the inlets remained below 40 degrees.”

Rainbow trout made up the majority of the catch followed by brown trout. Lahontan cutthroats were scarce. CDFW annually stocks 100,000 Lahontan cutthroat fingerlings in the fall. Cutthroats represented just 0.9 percent of the shoreline catch and 1.6 percent of the boating catch compared to 2018 findings of 11.3 percent of the shoreline catch and 2.2 percent of the boating catch.

Opening day on Crowley Lake, with its big crowds and festive atmosphere, has always been about more than bag limits as reflected in Erdman’s creel survey report.

“Returning boat anglers were a bit slower than usual coming in off the lake probably due to the pleasant conditions on the lake. Relaxing in the sun and drifting in the slight breeze. A grand day to be on the water.”

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: CDFW's creel surveys play an important role in evaluating the lake's management and stocking allocations.

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Media Contact:
Peter Tira, CDFW Communications, (916) 322-8908

 

Categories: Wildlife Research
  • April 20, 2018

Man in Department of Fish and Wildlife uniform standing in the bed of a truck shoveling rocks

Man in Department of Fish and Wildlife uniform standing in stream pouring rocks into stream from large bucket

Man in Department of Fish and Wildlife uniform crouching in stream looking at the water

Stream with rocks lining the streambed

California’s drought emergency was officially declared to be over last year, but its deleterious impact on fish habitat is still being felt in many parts of the state -- especially in arid parts of Southern California. In order to help offset these effects at one site in northern San Diego County, CDFW biologists and other staff recently toiled to create spawning beds for rainbow trout.

The Sweetwater River is a second-order stream located within Cuyamaca Rancho State Park. The underlying rock is granite, which, as it erodes, creates sand that accumulates in the low-gradient portion of the river. Previous surveys in the Sweetwater River revealed a lack of high-quality spawning habitat for the rainbow trout population, which was reduced by 70 to 80 percent during the recent drought.

Seeing an opportunity to restore habitat to this waterway, South Coast Region fisheries biologists came up with a plan to place suitable materials into Sweetwater for the rainbow trout to use for new spawning grounds. Beginning on March 20, CDFW Environmental Scientist Russell Barabe, scientific aids Joseph Stanovich and Ken Sankary and volunteer Mark Berlin worked in the hot sun and dry conditions to rehab the streambed. Using a nearby dry stream channel, the team shoveled hundreds of pounds of rocks and materials through mesh screens to remove fine sediment and sand and clean the rock, called cobbles, to make them ready for placement into Sweetwater River. All the rock had to be moved one bucket at a time and poured into pool tailouts (the downstream end of a pool where the water gradually shallows) to create spawning beds about three feet square for rainbow trout.

Though similar work has been done in northern California – specifically two larger-scale projects in the American and Sacramento rivers, which served as the inspiration for this project – it had never been done in this small a stream before.

This small but important project could increase the spawning success of a drought-reduced population in a stream with easy public access. If successful, this project could be used as a model for future habitat restoration activities in other small trout streams. The fisheries team’s work is an example of how our scientists put the mission of CDFW – to conserve California’s fish and wildlife resources for the use and enjoyment of the public – into action.

CDFW Photos. Top Photo: CDFW Scientists hauling buckets of rocks to create spawning beds for rainbow trout.

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Categories: General