070 Stocking Fish in the High Lakes with Brian Curtis
The Trail Blazers, a volunteer group for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW), were formed in 1933 and in that time they would attach a five gallon milk can to a Trapper Nelson backpack. They were stocking the lakes with thousands of fish without taking into consideration the overall sustainability of the food for that many fish and overpopulation concerns.
It didn’t take the WDFW long to figure out their oversight, cutting back on the number of fish stocked all the way into the 1970’s. Even today the lakes are constantly adjusted as more knowledge is gained.
Before 1933 there were few lakes being stocked. If they were stocked, then it was usually by miners or small local groups of fisherman.
The high lakes of the Cascade Mountains did not have fish until they were first stocked in recent years. Way back to the Ice Age, these small lakes were left with no access for fish to migrate. Some bigger valley bottom lakes however were connected and therefore had some native fish and they still have native fish today.
Brian Curtis joined the Trail Blazers in 1987 when he took his love for hiking and fishing to the WDFW volunteer organization. He recalls his Dad taking him to various high lakes to fish back in the 1960’s.
When Brian is stocking lakes today, he often sees people fishing. They are usually curious and he loves to show them what he does.
In 1963, after the Leopold Report, Our National Parks started to revert back to a more natural state. Things like a golf course on Mount Rainier were taken out. This included the non-native fish in lakes. Chemicals, gill nets and electricity have been used to eradicate them.
North Cascades National Park was different because it was created after the Leopold Report. WDFL was able to raise a voice at the meetings, swaying politicians to see the benefit of the fish and ultimately a bill was passed by President Obama just a few years ago to allow the lakes to be stocked.
Brian has packed in as few as twenty fish to a high lake and has been a part of a group, carrying 5,000 fish. The amount of fish vary based on the size of the lake or the productivity of the lake. Productivity would be things like food for fish and how many people are reaching the lake to fish it.
All fish are picked up at one of three main fish hatcheries at North Bend, Arlington or Mossy Rock. Accidents do happen, Brian mentions that sometimes the fish don’t make it for various reasons. One example he gives is if they are sitting in the sun too long.
The fish being stocked can not breed and the goal is to keep them from doing so. Fish left to their own mating can over populate a lake which can change the other living organisms of this unique habitat and not allow the fish to grow healthily.
The season for stocking high lakes with fish is very similar to our hiking season. Brian talks about needing to break ice off of some lakes in early and even late season. Different breeds of fish are better to stock in early season, Golden Trout however do better when stocked closer to September or October.
If a hiker wants to become a Trail Blazer, the first step is attending meetings regularly. Being active in the club by joining other volunteers on a stocking trip and learning the skills. Go to watrailblazers.org to find out all the information on meetings and some great archive photos also.
Limit your catch, don’t catch your limit is a motto that the Trail Blazers hope all high lake fishers keep in mind when they recreate. It is fun to catch fish and important to keep a few in the lake for the next person.
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