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Fish drop from the sky into mountain lakes

The fish were raised in Salida and will be dropped into 330 alpine lakes in the northern half of the state.

DENVER — Hundreds of fish being dropped out of an airplane is not something you see every day, but believe it or not that's how Colorado Park and Wildlife (CPW) is stocking hundreds of alpine lakes with trout.

CPW said 330 alpine lakes in the northern half of the state are set to receive roughly 380,000 fish.

About 70,000 of the fish – 65,000 cutthroat trout and 5,000 golden trout – took off Wednesday from the Granby Airport and were air-dropped into the pristine high-elevation lakes in Boulder, Grand, Jackson and Larimer counties.

The trout were raised at the Mt. Shavano Hatchery in Salida and driven up Wednesday to the Granby Airport starting at 4 a.m. by Fish Culturists Doug Sebring and Taylor Woolmington.

Credit: Jason Clay, CPW

There they met CPW wildlife pilots Larry Gepfert and Denise Corcoran, who were ready to airlift the trout in their Cessna 185 Aircraft to their new mountain-life home. It will take the fish a year-and-a-half or two years to grow to a catchable size of 10 inches.

“It’s efficient,” Sebring said. “We can get a large quantity of fish into high mountain lakes that are basically only accessible by foot or horseback.”

The fish float on down once deployed from the airplane at about 100-150 feet above the lake.

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“They are so small and they don’t have a lot of mass to them, so their acceleration rate is pretty low,” Gepfert said. “Their heads are the heaviest parts, so they tend to go head first and drop straight into the water.”

CPW operates 19 hatcheries that breed, hatch, rear and stock over 90 million fish per year. Many of the fish produced are to enhance angling opportunities, while others serve a critical role in native species recovery efforts.

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“There is definitely a niche of anglers that seek out high alpine fishing every year,” said Jeff Spohn, Senior Aquatic Biologist for the Northeast Region of CPW. “This is another opportunity that CPW provides to our angling community.”

Next year, the aerial effort will be focused on the alpine lakes in the southern half of the state. The rotation is part of CPW managing its natural resources for the future enjoyment of the public.