The Official magazine of Western Canada's Game Warden Associations
Summer 2011 Issue

Stocking Alpine Lakes

    Alpine lakes are often stocked with trout and shared by those engaged in the ancient battle of man versus fish. These lakes are serene and offer unsurpassed beauty. Traditionally, and still in some regions of North America, these high alpine lakes are stocked by hikers or by horseback. The hikers, under a state/provincial contract, carry plastic water jugs of tiny rainbow trout and battery-operated oxygen pumps in their backpacks. These loads are heavy and some lakes are so remote that it has become very inefficient. Some states have found a more efficient method- turning to the skies! 

    By the end of World War II, the California Department of Fish and Game (CDFG) had begun experimenting with using airplanes to stock trout into High Sierra lakes. Due to the success of this project, millions of fingerling trout were stocked in remote lakes across the state. Several other states have used the success of the CDFG and have started using airplanes themselves. 

    The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) stocks native cutthroat trout in high altitude lakes with airplanes. Four specialized pilots fly modified Cessna 185 airplanes and stock around 300 lakes ranging in altitude from 10,000 to 12,000 feet. Several hundreds or even thousands of fish are dropped at a time. The airplane is equipped with a custom built trout tank, named “Bass-O-Matic”. DOW studies show that over 85 percent of the tiny fish actually survive the fall. The fish that are dropped from the plane are small, not much larger than an inch. The smaller the fish means the smaller the mass, which increases the chances of survival. The fish hopper consists of nine four-gallon containers each emptied on their own. The pilot triggers the release on his steering control and the trap door opens to release the fish, just like the air tankers used in wildland firefighting. As fish need oxygen to breathe, a full tank of oxygen is placed inside the Cessna. Flying at high altitudes for hours in an unpressurized airplane can lead to a lack of oxygen and even hypoxia (deficient oxygen reaching tissues). To combat this problem, pilots have created a splitter off the oxygen tank and they take deep pulls themselves every so often. Flying these extremely risky missions requires very talented pilots. 

    In the state of Wyoming, thousands of fish from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department's fish hatcheries are stocked using another aerial method, a helicopter. Several lakes can be stocked in one trip thanks to specially designed tanks. The helicopter pilot controls the release of the fish with an electronic switch. A traditional method of stocking the lakes (hiking in with the fish) requires a lot of manpower and takes several weeks. Several fish are also lost on the long hikes up to the lakes. Using a helicopter is a safer, faster and more efficient method of getting these fish to the hard to reach waters. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department generally stocks several species of trout, including the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. To make sure that the fish are healthy when they reach the water, fish culture personnel closely monitor the oxygen level and water temperature of the transportation tanks. The temperature of the tanks must closely match the temperature of the lakes where the fish will be planted. This will help reduce the thermal shock to the fish. Fisheries biologists determine the species, volume and location they would like stocked each year. 

    Every year in Alaska, rainbow trout are stocked in 20 alpine lakes on Kodiak Island. This is done through a joint effort between the United States Coast Guard and Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The coast guard in Kodiak has been assisting the Department of Fish and Game stock remote lakes on Kodiak Island since the early 1990s. The coast guard has decided to use helicopters instead of fixed wing airplanes because of their advantages. Helicopters can travel at a slower rate of speed and can get down lower over some of the smaller lakes that are surrounded on all sides by tall trees. 

           Alpine Stocking

    In the stocked alpine lakes, the size of the fish is controlled by food and habitat, but it is not unheard of to catch fish as large as 28 inches long. The lakes are often stocked with sterile trout, which cannot reproduce, creating a limited population for sport fishing. Although several biologists are against stocking due to some environmental issues, others, like avid fisherman Andrew Haley (3rd Year Conservation Enforcement student at Lethbridge College) think that for the most part, stocked alpine lakes provide an opportunity to fish where previously (in most cases) there were no fish or fishing opportunities. He sees them as a prize at the end of the trail.

Author: Jonathan Sinclair.
Johathan is a 4th
Conservation Enforcement student

attending Lethbridge Community College

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