The California Department of Fish and Wildlife answers questions posed by interested individuals in its column California Outdoors Q&As.
Question: I have read in different places that CDFW at times stocks trout in the Sierra mountains and elsewhere in high country lakes – sometimes by airplane, horses and humans. Is there a web page on your site that discusses when and where this takes place? Is there a record showing when and where previous stockings took place? I have found the Fish Planting Schedule on your website but never see backcountry or high-elevation lakes included. (Ryan)
Answer: Great questions, Ryan. Let’s start with the Fish Planting Schedule on the California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s (CDFW) website. That schedule shows “catchable trout” – about 12 inches and larger – planted for recreational fishing. Those fish are planted to be caught more or less immediately by anglers, and the Fish Planting Schedule can help direct anglers to the fish.
Trout stocked in backcountry waters, by contrast, are typically planted as “sub-catchables” or “fingerlings” which are typically 7 inches and smaller. Those trout plants don’t appear on the Fish Planting Schedule. Their smaller size makes the fish easier to transport to remote waters. They aren’t planted to be caught immediately – but rather the intention is that they grow and acclimate for a season or two and become much like wild fish by the time an angler encounters them.
There are a couple, better online resources for you. On CDFW’s Fish Planting Schedule web page there is a link to the Annual Provisional Stocking Document, which is the statewide overview of CDFW’s trout and inland salmon stocking plans for the fiscal year. These plants aren’t guaranteed – weather, fires, forest closures, hatchery problems and disease are among the factors that can alter or derail these plans. But it’s a comprehensive look at all the waters CDFW intends to stock along with detailed information on the species stocked and the size of the stocked fish. This document can be very helpful to those planning a backcountry fishing trip.
Another helpful resource is CDFW’s online Fishing Guide. Here you can search an area or specific body of water to see its fish planting history – including those trout stocked as fingerlings and sub-catchables. CDFW’s online Fishing Guide can also tell you what backcountry waters have trout in them and what species of trout you’ll likely find.
Some of the most enjoyable backcountry waters to fish are those that were planted long ago and now support wild, self-sustaining trout populations as a result. Backcountry trout are not stocked indiscriminately, but only after an environmental assessment is conducted to ensure the water is not home to any endangered frogs or other species that could be threatened by introduced trout. In some cases, non-native trout are removed from backcountry waters where they jeopardize native amphibian populations or inhibit recovery.
Each CDFW region is responsible for the stocking of its backcountry waters. Some rely on hatchery staff, volunteers on mules and horseback, aerial stocking or some combination of these methods. You are welcome to reach out to the appropriate CDFW regional office and speak with the local fisheries biologists about their backcountry trout stocking efforts. Those CDFW regions most popular with trout anglers often have additional resources to share. We wish you good luck in your backcountry fishing adventures. See CDFW’s Places to Visit page to see what activities are allowed on each department property.