Here's where to go to catch Alaska-sized trout in the Mt. Shasta area
On a pristine morning at Lake Siskiyou last week, Mt. Shasta Rotary and a group of 20 volunteers released 900 Alaska-sized rainbow trout from the fish pens near the marina, the third straight spring with a successful release.
Most of the trout range 17 to 23 inches, with a sprinkling smaller and larger, including individuals in the 5 to 7 pound range.
“Our goal is to provide an opportunity for local children and their parents that they can’t find anywhere else,” said Mt. Shasta Rotary President-elect Tom Stienstra, program chairman. “It costs thousands of dollars to go to Alaska to catch fish like these. Yet here they are, right in our backyard.”
To provide the best chance for children to catch a fish of a lifetime, the fish were released a month earlier than last year, when cool water will keep the fish near the surface and within the best catchable range for the next five to six weeks, Stienstra said.
At the same time, Will Keller, president of the Siskiyou Flyfishers, pledged his members would release their catch and urged all anglers to do the same to maintain the lake as a trophy trout fishery. “These big trout are too valuable to be caught only once,” Keller said. “We all need to do our part.”
The “Rotary Fish” can be identified by a clipped adipose fin, the small fin on the back of trout directly behind the dorsal, said Monty Currier, who helps oversee the program with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
The fish release crowned a six-month program at the Rotary Trout Pens. Last October, the Department of Fish and Wildlife donated rainbow trout from the Crystal Lake Hatchery in Shasta County that were placed in the pens. With low lake levels, volunteers created a bucket brigade and hand carried the fish from a tanker truck to the pens. Under the supervision of Site Managers Steve Brown and Merle Anderson, Rotary Foundation President, battery-powered, solar-charged feeders fed the fish four times daily. Since last October, the trout have grown up to an inch per month.
Over the past six months, volunteers from Rotary, Siskiyou Land Trust, Mt. Shasta Trail Association, Siskiyou Flyfishers and Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort provided additional maintenance as needed.
After the lids to the pens were removed last week, a group of 20 volunteers then descended the pens by rope into the lake, where they watched the fish swim free. Some of the trout explored the big giant world outside their pens while others were more tentative and took until nightfall to depart. “Watching those big fish swim free is pure magic,” Stienstra said.
Since the fish were raised in cages instead of hatchery raceways, they look, act and feed much like wild rainbow trout.
For the third straight year, no fish were lost to predation at any of the three pens; another pen project at Lake Berryessa last year lost all of their fish to otter predation.
Rotary’s Greg Juell, owner of Sousa Ready Mix, designed and fabricated a portable winch system for the pens, as well as a system that otter-proofed the pens, that CDFW called a model for pen projects.
This year’s strain of trout is Eagle Lake Trout, among the most desirable trout in the world. They are known for their brilliant crimson stripe along chrome-bright sides, black leopard-like spots on their backs, fighting characteristics and sometimes elusive nature that make each trophy catch a prize for all anglers.
Rotary designed and built the dock structure with three 10-foot deep trout pens, funded with a donation by Gary Bechtel, who promotes and funds youth outdoors opportunities. Mt. Shasta Rotary has partnered with the CDFW, Siskiyou County Board of Supervisors and Lake Siskiyou Camp Resort to operate the trout program.
Mt. Shasta Rotary is the service club made up of your neighbors and friends. Contact us today at firstname.lastname@example.org, and follow us on social media as @mtshastarotary. Our website is mtshastarotary.org.