Association continues support of local fishing economy
Volunteers work together to transfer thousands of diploid fingerlings into the Almanor Fishing Association’s fish rearing cages Oct. 31. Photos by Samantha P. Hawthorne
Once again, the Almanor Fishing Association is doing its part to ensure Lake Almanor continues to thrive as a popular fishing destination. On Oct. 31, a group of 19 volunteers stocked the AFA fish rearing cages with 50,000 Eagle Lake diploids, which will be released into the lake once they reach maturity.
The Fish Pen Project was established in 1979 by community members Rhonda Dakota, Ruben Chavez and Jim Pleau. With help from local volunteers and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, AFA has continued the long-standing tradition of rearing fish in the Hamilton Branch cages.
This year’s fingerlings came in at about 4 to 5 inches long, and are expected to grow to the normal length of 10 to 12 inches by the time they are released in May. According to honorary AFA board member Paul Garrido, there were approximately nine fish to a pound.
Almanor Fishing Association members guide thousands of rainbow trout into a cage before loading it onto a pontoon boat headed for the Hamilton Branch fish rearing cages Oct. 31.
Despite last year’s imposed CDFW requirement that only a mixture of triploids (infertile fish) and diploids (fertile fish) can be planted in California lakes and rivers, the association was able to obtain a complete stock of diploids from Darrah Springs Hatchery — one of CDFW’s public fish hatcheries.
Last year, AFA president Rich Dangler was skeptical of how well the combination of fish would do in the lake. Garrido said, however, that the mixture of triploids and diploids did just as well as previous years, and were also just as big despite letting them loose a month early.
Community in action
Every year CDFW supports the cage-rearing project by donating 50,000 rainbow trout fingerlings for planting.
When the fish arrive on one of CDFW’s public hatchery trucks, they are hosed into a large cage by groups of 5,000 to 10,000. The cage is then secured to a pontoon boat that has a special crank built just for use in this project.
Volunteers navigate the loaded pontoon to the Hamilton Branch side of Lake Almanor and then manually net the fish into 10 separate cages, with 5,000 in each cage.
The fingerlings are planted when they are about 4 to 6 inches in size and by the time they are released, they have grown to 10 to 14 inches.
Throughout the winter, normally between November and April, volunteers feed the fish on a day-to-day basis, counting and removing any that didn’t survive through the night.
Over the years, native bird life and previously reared and released fish have adapted to the feeding schedule and will often be seen hanging around the cages, waiting for their next meal.
Kokanee Power donates annually approximately 15,000 pounds of fish food to last through the winter. According to Dangler, if they run out of food, the fish are released early.
Usually, the fish remain in the cages until late April or early May.
Throughout the years, more than 1 million fish have been reared in the Hamilton Branch cages.
Although AFA membership has increased over the last year, volunteers have decreased.
At least three more volunteers are needed this year to help feed the fingerlings throughout the winter. To volunteer for a feeding slot call 259-5899.
AFA membership is not limited to the Almanor area, and many of its members live throughout Plumas County. Membership levels start as low as $30. To become a member visit almanorfishingassociation.com.
History of cage rearing
Since the late 1800s, artificial methods to increase the fish population in California have been employed in order to fill a void between nature’s ability to produce fish and anglers’ demands for them.
To keep up with the demand, the California State Legislature passed “An Act to provide for the restoration and preservation of fish in the waters of this state” on April 2, 1870. Under this act, the three newly appointed commissioners of fisheries were given the duty to establish “fish breederies” and stock streams, lakes and bays with both foreign and domestic fish.
For areas such as Lake Almanor, having a healthy fish population is key to a thriving community. The beautiful 28,257-acre reservoir is home to a variety of fish, which help attract anglers from all over.
This manmade lake has reaped the benefits of the restoration act through the AFA’s cage-rearing project. For almost 35 years, fish have been artificially planted and reared in the waters, making up more than half of Lake Almanor’s fish population.
“The whole community relies on the quality of fishing here. Lake Almanor is the key and we want to keep it as healthy as possible,” said Dangler.
When the program was first established, only two netted 2-by-4 framed squares were used to rear the fish. After a couple successful years, CDFW donated four aluminum cages to the program. Lake Oroville’s already established cage rearing program ended soon after, and its cages were sent to Lake Almanor.
By 1982 the program had 10 cages, which helped expand the fish rearing efforts. The cages went through a restoration process for three years and were used for the first time last year.
The restoration cost $37,000, which was donated by California Inland Fisheries Foundation Inc., Kokanee Power, Plumas County Fish and Game Commission and AFA. Today, the program is one of the largest and most successful cage-rearing programs in California.
Although the cages have been fully restored, birds are still finding their way inside via the feeding holes. The association is looking into replacing the cage covers, which are estimated to cost approximately $17,000. Garrido said the group will most likely apply for a grant to cover the cost.
Aside from AFA’s fish-rearing program, CDFW plants fish throughout Plumas County at different times throughout the year. A monthly fish planting schedule can be found at nrm.dfg.ca.gov/fishplants.
CDFW currently stocks approximately 1,000 bodies of water within California and operates 21 public hatcheries.