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Planes to drop 275,000 fish into Colorado lakes

CPW completed their second of three rounds of fish stocking into high elevation lakes Monday and Tuesday.

COLORADO, USA — Many high altitude lakes in Colorado received their second shipment of cutthroat trout by Colorado Parks and Wildlife (CPW) planes this Monday and Tuesday.

Three CPW pilots hopped into their Cessna 185 aircraft with one mission: airlift over 95,000 one-inch long cutthroat trout to their new homes in Colorado.

This was the second of three fish stocking drops, with one other scheduled later this summer as a part of CPW's annual operation for managing its alpine lakes for the public.   

“Our aerial stocking program is critical in our efforts to provide high mountain lake angling opportunities throughout Colorado,” said Josh Nehring, CPW’s Assistant Aquatics Section Manager. “Most of these remote high mountain lakes do not have the proper habitat and conditions to allow for natural reproduction. Over the course of just a couple of weeks, CPW stocks hundreds of lakes each year using this method.”

They reached 73 lakes those days thanks to wildlife pilots Denise Corcoran, Larry Gepfert and Steve Waters. 

The Rifle Falls Hatchery produced nearly 37,000 Colorado River cutthroat trout that went into 64 lakes via same-day air delivery in late July.

Once the fish are deployed by the planes, they float down into the lakes.

“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,” Gepfert, who is approaching 20 years as a pilot for CPW, said. “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."

>> Video below: Clip of CWP fish stocking, or click here for the full video 

This summer, the last stocking operations are in September, when native cutthroat trout, golden trout, and arctic grayling at the Mt. Shavano State Fish Hatchery will go out to their new homes.

CWP plans to stock nearly 275,000 fish into 240 lakes this summer, with most lakes in the southern half of our state’s mountainous region.

Next year, the aerial effort will focus on the alpine lakes in the northern half, part of CPW’s sky stocking rotation regime. 

After being stocked by air delivery, CPW said it takes these fish a year and a half to two years to grow to a catchable size of 10 inches.

“We have a short window to grow the fish big enough to get on the airplanes,” said Bryan Johnson, Mt. Shavano Hatchery Manager. “We get our eggs for the aerial stockings towards the end of June and they have to be out by October before they get too big. Our window is typically right after Labor Day weekend and from there we only have a couple weeks before the winds get bad or the weather starts turning. We’ve been doing this for a number of years now, so it is pretty easy to look back at previous flight plans to schedule it all out with our pilots.”

CPW said there is a lot of consideration when coordinating when the fish will go out via airplane.  

“The hatcheries are a big part of it," Gepfert said. "We’re kind of just the final step in the process in getting those fish out there. There is a lot of time spent growing those fish and planning all of this by a lot of people involved. This is the final phase of getting them out there for the anglers.”

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