Anglers should be hooked as the fish fly from DOW planes |

Anglers should be hooked as the fish fly from DOW planes

Anglers who hook a big trout in high-altitude lakes a few years from now will be able to think back to this summer and thank the Colorado Division of Wildlife.

The wildlife division dumped “hundreds of thousands” of trout fingerlings into dozens of reservoirs and lakes in the high country around the Roaring Fork Valley last week, according to wildlife division spokesman Todd Malmsbury. The stocking is occurring throughout the state.

The restocking program started in the 1950s but was halted in 1994 due to “no absolutely pure” sources of fingerlings, Malmsbury said. Fisheries and natural populations were hit hard by whirling disease. Re-establishing disease-free hatcheries has been a prime goal of the wildlife division.

Restocking resumed on a small scale last year and on a major level this year, according to Malmsbury. Places like Ruedi Reservoir, and American and Cathedral lakes reaped the benefits.

DOW official Alan Czenkusch said it was impossible to give an exact number of how many lakes were stocked because the plans drawn up last winter were altered this summer due to the drought.

“Some lakes don’t have enough water so we’re reshuffling,” Czenkusch said.

The wildlife division stocks the lakes and reservoirs by dropping the fingerlings from airplanes. The crafts fly as low as 50 feet above the water to drop their loads.

The fingerlings, between one inch and two inches long, are released from tubes and surrounded by droplets of water. DOW surveys indicate the survival rate is above 95 percent when they hit water.

Loads of fingerlings are backpacked to lakes that are inaccessible by air. Czenkusch said pilots looked at Jacks and Truro lakes, for example, and decided the mountains around them “were too tight.”

Fish need to be restocked at those high-level bodies of water because of winter kill, when fish don’t survive the cold weather. It doesn’t happen every winter but usually hits every lake one in five, 10 or 15 years.

It typically happens after there is an early thaw followed by a warm summer that produces lots of plant growth topped by an early winter with hard freezing, Czenkusch said.

Plants die and use the oxygen. But that alone doesn’t kill the fish. When lakes are frozen over and oxygen isn’t available, the decomposing plants create hydrogen sulfide, which is more toxic than cyanide, he explained. That proves deadly to the fish.

It’s impossible to forecast what lakes will be affected on any given year. Elevation and aspect have a lot to do with it, Czenkusch said. Lakes that are most susceptible aren’t restocked with fingerlings.

In those that are stocked, it’s impossible to tell when the fish will grow to a size that will capture the attention of anglers. Again, it depends on elevation, aspect and food supply.

Some of the fingerlings will never amount to anything but a tasty meal for bigger fish.

Percentages of fingerlings growing appear best at Ruedi Reservoir. Fish couldn’t be restocked at some lakes on the Grand Mesa because water levels were so low, Czenkusch said. Those loads were diverted to Ruedi.

[Scott Condon’s e-mail address is]

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