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Program to help trout

by Chuck Smock

The New Year’s Flood of ’97 that devastated the Carson Valley and much of the eastern Sierra Nevada is still having a lingering effect on the fishing at Topaz Lake.

But not for long, thanks to an innovative program designed by the Nevada Division of Wildlife (NDOW), and executed by Topaz-area businesses.

When flood waters poured into Topaz Lake, they brought with them tons of silt and sediment that turned the lake’s water murky for months. The lake’s lunker trout, which require clean, fresh water with high levels of oxygen, didn’t survive.

NDOW, in cooperation with Topaz Landing, Topaz Lake RV Park, Topaz Lodge and the Topaz Nugget, has implemented a plan to raise hatchery fish in holding pens at the marina. The idea is to give the fish a chance to grow to larger sizes before they are turned loose in the lake.

“The big-fish component was missing after the flood,” said Chris Healy, NDOW’s public affairs coordinator. “Anglers were concerned about the loss of the big fish and the fact that the fish didn’t survive the siltation.”

Chuck Fields, the owner of Topaz Landing marina, built two pens to hold 1,500 trout that were reared at the Mason Valley hatchery, near Yerington. The 1,000 Eagle Lake rainbows and 500 bowcuts – a hybrid cross between rainbow trout and cutthroat trout – will be held in the pens at Topaz, and fed twice daily, until they are released next summer.

Fields says he hopes some of the fish will be approaching the 4- to 5-pound range when they are set free in June.

And if water temperatures stay cool enough next summer, Fields plans to keep a few hundred of the fish in the pens until December 1999. By then, he said, those fish could weigh 8 to 9 pounds.

Fields says he feeds the fish 15 to 17 pounds of trout pellets each day. He estimates that it will cost $2,000 to $2,500 to feed the fish through June. The Topaz businesses are paying for the food and supplying the labor to take care of the fish.

“All the fish raised here will be released into Topaz,” Fields said. “The idea is to have larger fish for the anglers to catch.”

Topaz Lake, which is managed by the NDOW and the California Department of Fish and Game, receives 60,000 to 75,000 hatchery trout each year. Those fish average about 10 inches in length and weigh about one-half pound.

The lake is closed to fishing every year from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31. Trout are usually planted in Topaz during this period to give them a chance to get acclimated before the fishing pressure starts.

It costs NDOW about $2.50 to raise one pound of fish – or two of the average-size planter trout. It takes 10 to 12 months to raise the trout from eggs to 10-inchers. Healy said it is cost-prohibitive to raise trout to larger sizes in the hatcheries.

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