Bob Michaels, left, and John Crotty of the Almanor Fishing Association feed penned rainbow trout every Monday at the Lake Almanor Fishery near Hamilton Branch. Photos by Mari Erin Roth

Rainbows are growing

John Crotty pulls the float across Lake Almanor waters to access fish pens for one of the young rainbows daily feeding.

A number of colorful trout — 35,000 rainbows — are receiving dedicated care from members of the Almanor Fishing Association at the Lake Almanor Fishery near Hamilton Branch.

Individuals and pairs of volunteers have not missed a day feeding the fish despite horizontal rains and freezing weather on the lake the past few months.

“Bob and I have been the Monday feeding team for three years,” said John Crotty, “and we only missed one day in all that time,” due to a severely white-capped lake between shore and the fish pens.

That kind of consistency and dedication is what has kept the AFA going since it was founded in 1980.

The AFA was organized by fishermen, businesses and the Chester Chamber of Commerce to promote and enhance the Lake Almanor fishery.

“Jim and Toni Pleau and previous owners of Lassen View Resort, Ruben and Julie Chavez, were the original founders,” said Crotty, “and Ruben and Jim remain on the board to this day.”

In 1985, AFA began a fish-rearing program with two net pens. It soon acquired 10 aluminum cage pens from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and began planting up to 50,000 rainbow trout annually in Almanor. After 33 years the AFA pen program has become the longest running, most successful fish-rearing program in the state. “We have released more than 1,500,000 rainbows into Almanor,” said Crotty.

The AFA receives young fish (sub-catchable rainbows) from its partner, CDFW, in early October and hand feeds the fish daily until their release in April. By then, the fish have more than doubled in size and have a better chance of surviving.

“Our [volunteer] feeders are dedicated,” said Crotty. “They are the backbone of our organization and take the responsibility of feeding seriously.”

During the recent storms, AFA had work parties assist the scheduled feeders to remove snow and ice from the pens, docks and transfer boat.

“This camaraderie is the norm with AFA,” said Crotty. “Our feeders have not missed a day of feeding in 2018!”

Crotty says the AFA faced “lots of adversity since 1985.” Originally, CDFW paid for fish food and fish pen maintenance. State budget cuts resulted in losing that funding and the necessity to partner with other organizations. Over the past few years, the group has assumed the entire financial responsibility of the pen program. “We have replaced docks, moved staircases, repaired pen lids and our volunteers have performed countless hours of volunteer work,” said Crotty.

Bob Michaels slowly scatters a handful of fish food on another perfect day to waiting, and growing, baby trout.

Then there is Mother Nature throwing in her two cents: “Last year the storms broke the docks apart,” said Bob Michaels, Crotty’s Monday fish feeding partner for the past three years. Because of the storm damage, there are three empty pens in need of repair.

The success of the project and care given the fish however continues to show in the minute loss of 0.14 percent during the rough winter month of February.

On March 5, in the warm sunshine with not a cloud in the sky, I joined in feeding the fish. It could not have been a more beautiful day on the water and I had to wonder if perhaps there was a long list of folks just hoping for a volunteer spot to open up to feed the fish.

AFA has had 37 years to become aware of the needs in the “neighborhood” and has made good use of the time.

“AFA does more for Lake Almanor and our community than just raise fish; we clean and care for the public access area at Hamilton Branch, we volunteer with the USFS to clean and maintain the Canyon Dam public boat launch during the off season and we partner with Field of Dreams to provide fishing trips for Veterans from their organization,” said Crotty.

The group is also working with local guides and fishermen, the Chester Elks Lodge, Field of Dreams, CDFW, USFS, PG&E, Plumas County Veterans Office and the Redding Veterans Office to provide the second annual Veterans Fishing Day and Barbecue on Lake Almanor. That vets’ day on the water is Sunday, June 24.

“In April we will be providing our very first fishing trip for foster children, a program that we hope to expand upon with assistance from local guides,” said Crotty.

Information for any who wish to lend a hand or become an AFA member is available at almanorfishingassociation.org, by e-mailing to

[email protected] or calling 284-0861.

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