RIFLE — Earlier this week, Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) continued their operation to re-stock cutthroat trout into Colorado's high mountain lakes, by dropping them from an airplane.
This is part of an annual operation run by CPW. They say doing it by plane is a much more efficient way to re-stock the fish population to Colorado's alpine lakes. They say before, they would have to stock the lakes by "loading fish into milk cans and hiking them up on horseback." They say by using airplanes they are able to do this operation at hundreds of lakes each year.
CPW says they do this to provide more fishing opportunities in Colorado since these alpine lakes aren't a great habitat for the fish population to reproduce naturally.
On Monday and Tuesday, over 95,000 cutthroat trout were stocked into 73 lakes. Back in late July, the Rifle Falls Hatchery produced nearly 37,000 Colorado River cutthroat trout that went into 64 lakes via same-day air delivery.
In order to deploy the fish, they must slow the airplane down to 85-90 miles per hour in order to release the fish.
“We’re about 100 feet above the lake and as we’re coming across and as they dump, they almost stop immediately as they come out of the airplane,” said CPW pilot Larry Gepfert in a press release. “They are very tiny, the fish today were about one-inch in size. Their heads are heavier and so they tend to elongate vertically and drop with the water and then they just go into the lake. They did studies years ago and the survival rates are in the 90 percentile."
Once stocked via air delivery, it takes fish a year-and-a-half or two years to grow to a catchable size of 10 inches. CPW coordinates extensively with hatcheries in the state, and that a lot of planning is involved in order to grow the fish to the right size for the drop-off.
CPW says nearly all of the lakes in the southern half of the state are stocked, they say next year they will focus on the northern part of the state. The last re-stock this summer will happen in September.