Volunteer bucket brigade deliver trout to Rotary's Lake Siskiyou fish pens for trophy fishing program
Big fish are like $100 bills. The supply never seems to equal the demand.
But Mt. Shasta Rotary’s trout pen project at Lake Siskiyou, with a fresh batch of fish arriving last weekend, provides the future promise of a chance to catch a fish of a lifetime.
With 30 volunteers from across Northern California, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife delivered this winter’s class of fish on Friday for grow-out in the pens. Low water levels at Lake Siskiyou meant that volunteers formed a bucket brigade to carry roughly 1,000 rainbow trout from the hatchery truck to the pens.
“You see the quality of these fish?” asked Monty Currier, an environmental scientist with CDFW. “They’re big and they’re beautiful.”
Currier partnered with Mt. Shasta Rotary and personally selected the fish for year’s allotment from the Crystal Lake Hatchery near Baum Lake in Shasta County.
The strain of trout Currier chose for the project are Eagle Lake Trout, a fish known for bright black spots and crimson stripe, a hearty trout that grows big and can provide exhilarating fights.
Just a week in, the fish are now thriving in three pens in the pristine waters of Lake Siskiyou. The trout will be fed by battery-powered solar-charged feeders up to four times a day, under the supervision of site managers Steve Brown and Rotary Foundation President Merle Anderson. In six months, with release expected next April, the trout will then range 16 to 23 inches and weigh 3 to 7 pounds.
“All anybody needs is the hope that something good could be just ahead,” said Tom Stienstra, Mt. Shasta Rotary president-elect and project manager. “We want to provide something great and give people something to look forward to.”
Volunteers for the bucket brigade came from Mt. Shasta Rotary, Siskiyou Flyfishers, Mt. Shasta Trail Association, Siskiyou Land Trust and from as far as Happy Camp, Alturas, Redding and the Bay Area. They ranged from 8 to 80.
“I’m here for the kids,” said Honorable Joseph Bergeron, retired Superior Court Judge from San Mateo County. “I’m pretty sure that’s why we’re all here.”
The goal of the project is to create a special local opportunity for parents and their children to engage in the outdoors. A Youth Fishing Day, held in 2019 but postponed this year due to COVID, is co-sponsored by Rotary and CDFW.
“When the kids come in with a big fish, it’s absolutely incredible for everybody,” said Julie Amsdell, general manager for Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort.
Will Keller, president of Siskiyou Flyfishers, which includes more than 100 anglers, pledged that his members would release any large trout in a mission to perpetuate the trophy fishery.
“We’ve had periods of fishing in the past year that have been incredible, world-class,” Keller said. “One of the best ways to keep it that way is to release the fish, of course, and that’s what we do, carefully and correctly, without touching the fish, so they can live on, get even bigger and provide similar excitement for anglers in the future.”
Before the bucket brigade was underway, all volunteers agreed to wear masks, and except for a few seconds for a group photo, stay distanced to stay COVID safe.
Rotary planned, financed, and constructed a dock structure with three pens at Lake Siskiyou for this pen-rearing program for trophy-size rainbow trout. Volunteers built the pens at Lake Siskiyou and then installed them in a cove neighboring the marina facility.
With the facility in place, in the fall DFW provides hatchery trout into the pens, with the help of Club volunteers. Over winter, battery-powered feeders then automatically feed the fish, which can grow an inch per month. In spring, the large fish are released and quickly become naturalized to their habitat and then take on the characteristics of wild fish. The trout are “triploids,” that is, they cannot breed, and in turn, grow faster and fight harder.
The heart of the project is a large dock structure with three trout pens. To establish the trout pens, Mt. Shasta Rotary formed partnerships with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors, and received support from Gary Bechtel, Kokanee Power, Lake Siskiyou Marina, Sousa Ready Mix and Campbell Global. Thanks to these supporters and Rotary's involvement, this program is funded and sustainable into the future.
Construction of the pens involved roughly 35 local volunteers. A 39-page document for the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) was vetted and filed by the CDFW and then approved by the State of California. The CEQA document received no negative filings and is now an active document that sets Rotary, CDFW and Siskiyou County free to operate a top-shelf program at Lake Siskiyou.
“We want fishing to be great again for big fish at Lake Siskiyou and we know how to make that happen,” Stienstra said.
Mt. Shasta Rotary meets weekly and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Mt. Shasta Rotary at www.mtshastarotary.org and @mtshastarotary.