Article by Alex Colvin photos by LACE photography
This year The Crystal Lake Fish Hatchery will stock 1.8 million trout. In addition to the 16 counties in California which they normally supply, they are also supplying fish to the Darrah Springs Trout Hatchery east of Redding and the Mount Shasta Fish Hatchery, both of which were quarantined in June because of infection by whirling disease.
On Thursday August 13, my wife Linda and I visited the Crystal Lake Hatchery. I had an appointment for an interview with Shane Overton, the manager. As well as learning about the general functions and processes of the hatchery, I also wanted to get information on planting this year, the effects of the drought, and impact of the whirling disease.
Shane Overton, his assistant manager, Francisco Cabral, and their staff were all very friendly and helpful. As we entered the grounds we met Mary Elizondo who oversees the hatching and early development of the trout. She directed us to the office where we were greeted by Overton and his secretary, Debby.
Overton ushered us into the meeting room, where we had an hour long discussion on this year’s operation of the hatchery. The walls of the meeting room are lined with a remarkable display of wildlife taxidermy including a moose head, a wild turkey, an American Pelican, a buck, and a wide assortment of local birds.
The drought has had some effect on planting. In areas such as Modoc and Lassen Counties, where streams and lakes rely on snowmelt for water, the hatchery planted the waters earlier. In April, they planted 20 percent of their stock.
No fewer trout were planted this year, but because of temperature and water conditions, the earlier plants contained fish that were smaller. As the year has progressed and the fish at the hatchery have matured, the size of fish being planted has returned to normal.
The waters in Eastern Shasta County have not been so affected by the drought. In Fall River Valley and Hat Creek the waters are fed by springs coming from underground lava tubes in addition to snowmelt, so even in drought the water levels have remained relatively consistent.
Concerning the whirling disease, there has been no trace of the disease in the Crystal Lake Hatchery or the waters planted by them. Trucks from the Darrah Springs and Mount Shasta hatcheries regularly come to be loaded with fish. Before they enter the hatchery they are decontaminated to ensure that there are no bacteria.
Darrah Springs and Mount Shasta hatcheries are both still under quarantine. Overton said that the cause of the infection was not yet certain but it is suspected that an otter infected with spores got into a stream which supplied water. The hatcheries are still being decontaminated and it is hoped that they will reopen sometime next year.
The entire interview was very pleasant. Overton has worked at the plant for 20 years. His father also worked for Fish and Game. When he was a boy he would often go out with his father to plant fish. He and Elizondo are knowledgeable about hatchery operations not only at Crystal Lake but throughout the state. Toward the end of our conversation, we were joined by assistant manager Cabral who also added his insight.
Everybody obviously enjoyed and took pride in their work. Overton said that he was happy to “serve the licensed fishing public” and explained that most of the funding for the hatcheries comes from the sale of fishing licenses.
There are 22 state fish hatcheries. Eight of them are anadromous Salmon and Steelhead hatcheries and 14 of them are Trout. In addition to receipts from licenses, some hatcheries are mitigated by funding from various agencies and corporations. The Crystal Lake Hatchery receives some funding from PG&E to compensate for stocking certain waters where normal fish migration has been affected by PG&E development.
Overton also ridded me of a myth that I had picked up from an angler on Burney Creek. After an employee of Crystal Lake Hatchery had just poured a bucket of fish into the stream and left, the fisherman told me that those fish wouldn’t bite for awhile because they were “drugged.”
Overton laughed and said that that story had been going around since he was a child. He and Elizondo assured me that they do not anesthetize the fish before they are transported for planting.
After the interview was over, Linda and I thanked everybody for their hospitality and help and went out to take pictures of the facility. We were in for a special treat.
Elizondo followed us out and asked if we would like a tour of the hatching process.
Elizondo has earned the nickname “Mama.” In addition to other responsibilities, she raises millions of Eagle Lake Trout from egg to catchable fish. Beginning in 1959 from 16 fish, the Eagle Lake Trout program has become one of the hatchery’s major success stories. The program allows the restocking of Eagle Lake with this unique native species. It also enables the planting of Eagle Lake Trout in other selected waters of the Pit River basin. As with planting of other trout species, this not only provides a catch for fishermen but also helps to maintain the survival of native wild trout that would otherwise be depleted by overfishing.
She took us through two buildings explaining the process. The eggs are incubated in trays until the eye develops. Then a machine separates the healthy eggs from those that did not survive. Next she transfers the eggs to a trough where they develop through the larval stage.
When juvenile fish have developed, they are transferred to deep water tanks where they grow as fry and finger fish. Once they reach sufficient size they are transferred to the outdoor tanks. There the fish continue to mature into small catchable trout, large catchable trout and the very large trout that grow to over 14 inches in length.
It takes about 18 months for a trout to develop from egg to a trout that can be planted in a stream. As mentioned before, the hatchery this year will provide 1.8 million trout to be harvested by the licensed fishing public. This week alone more that a hundred thousand pounds of fish will be planted in Lake Alomar.
After our informative tour, Linda and I took a few more photos, rested a bit in the pleasant picnic area provided by the hatchery, and then headed home reflecting on how delightful it is to visit the Crystal Lake Hatchery.