Thursday, August 30, 2007
Steamboat Springs The Colorado Division of Wildlife plans to push thousands of Colorado natives out of airplanes in the coming weeks. Spectators are welcome, but they must be willing to throw on a pack and take a hike.
DOW spokesman Tyler Baskfield confirmed this week that nine lakes near Steamboat Springs are among 284 Colorado lakes that will benefit from aerial stocking of cutthroat trout. Through mid-September, DOW pilots flying specially modified Cessna 185s will plant 325,000 cutthroats measuring between 1.5 and 2 inches.
In many cases, the Colorado River, greenback and Rio Grande strains of cutthroats, which are native to the state, are able to reproduce naturally in high country lakes. But aerial stocking improves the fisheries in Alpine lakes where the growing season is short.
"There is some natural reproduction, but at times we boost the fish population because in some lakes there is no decent reproductive habitat and in others there is winter kill," Baskfield said. "Stocking is done on a schedule. Not every lake gets hit every year."
The DOW stocks many lakes with trout brought in by horseback. But others are so remote that it's much more efficient to stock them by air.
Rich Kolecki, fish production chief for the DOW, said aerial stocking improves angler success in the high country, but that's not the only reason for the program.
"Aerial stocking not only provides recreational fishing opportunity for years to come, but it also helps strengthen our native trout populations," he said.
Primarily Colorado River cutthroats will be stocked in this area. The growth rates of the fingerling trout varies greatly from lake to lake, but generally speaking, Kolecki said, one can expect a 2-inch trout in a mountain lake to grow to be 9 or 10 inches within two years.
Among the lakes in the Mount Zirkel Wilderness Area that will be stocked are Lake Diana (1,000 fish), Dome Lake (1,500), Gilpin Lake (2,000), Gold Creek Lake (1,000), Mica Lake (500), Ptarmigan Lake (800), Upper Sanchez Lake (300) and Summit Lake (1,000).
Routt County anglers also cross over into Garfield County to fish the Flat Tops Wilderness. Lakes there that will benefit from aerial stocking next month include Mosquito Lake (1,000 fish), Round Lake (830), Snowslide Lake (500), East Lost Lake (1,380), Big Fish Lake (2,000), Black Mandall Lake (1,000) and Long Lake (1080).
The DOW pilots are specially trained for the difficult flying conditions. Many of the lakes are located in high-mountain bowls where space is tight and wind currents are unpredictable.
Kolecki said to stock the fish successfully, the planes have to be flying no higher than 125 feet above the lake. That ensures the fingerling trout don't dry out before they hit the water. The fish are released from a hopper fitted to the belly of the plane.
The hopper is loaded from a special tank fitted into the back seat of the aircraft. The pilot is able to load the hopper from the tank and then release the fish at just the right moment by pushing a button on the control yoke.
The planes can make drops at as many as nine bodies of water in one trip, Baskfield said.
All of the fish come from DOW hatcheries in Rifle and Salida. The hatchery trout are rigorously tested to ensure they are free of whirling disease.
Baskfield said he knows firsthand that small cutthroats can grow up to become big cutthroats even in Colorado's high mountain lakes. He visited a lake above Georgetown this summer that held 20-inch trout.
"If you are willing to pay the penance to reach some of those lakes, it can be a tremendous experience," Baskfield said. "There's a very short feeding season, and the trout are so willing to feed because they have to make a living in the summer months."