By Deb Murphy
The last four years of drought had a significant impact on Hot Creek, an iconic wild trout fishery south of Mammoth Lakes. Complaints from anglers and guides of fewer and smaller catches were, in this case, justified.
Kevin Peterson, manager of the Hot Creek Ranch for the past 10 years, watched it happen. “In 2008, we had 11 to 12,000 fish per mile; by 2016 that number was down to 1,000.” The creek suffered from low run-off out of the Eastern Sierra, a scenario repeated throughout the east side. No high seasonal flows flushed out the silt and vegetation build-up, water quality suffered. The flow into the creek is not regulated, so there wasn’t even a way to duplicate what nature should have been doing.
Peterson put in a call to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife in July; after a series of studies to determine the creek’s condition, the department planted 6,000 sub-catchable Rainbows and Browns, above and below but not on the Ranch property, with plans to add another 12,000 in 2017 and 2018. The goal is a sustainable fishery, the stockers are breeders.
While “wild trout” is defined as simply born in the wild, Fish and Wildlife policy allows stocking of wild trout areas in situations like those presented at Hot Creek, according to the department’s environmental scientist Jim Erdman.
Department staff and a small army of volunteers walked the creek observing the conditions, Erdman said. Water temperatures and dissolved oxygen levels were measured to determine if the living conditions would support a fish plant.
The department will keep an eye on the creek with surveys through 2019. The planted sub-catchables will have their adipose fins removed to track natural recruitment.