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The Colorado Division of Wildlife (DOW) will soon take to the skies in an effort to boost the state’s cutthroat trout populations.
Every year DOW pilots fly specially modified Cessna 185’s to many of Colorado’s high mountain lakes as part of the effort to stock fish to enhance conservation cutthroat populations and create recreational angling. This year 325,000 1.5-2 inch cutthroat trout will be stocked by air. The Colorado River, Greenback and Rio Grande strains of cutthroat will be stocked in 284 lakes.
“Our aerial stocking operation not only provides recreational fishing opportunity for years to come, but it also helps strengthen our native trout populations,” said Rich Kolecki Hatchery fish production chief for the DOW. “This is a coordinated effort between the hatcheries and pilots that pays tremendous dividends for our wildlife resource in the state.”
Flying these stocking missions can be difficult and take a tremendous amount of skill on the part of the well-trained DOW pilots. Many of the lakes are located in high mountain bowls where space is tight and wind currents are unpredictable. To stock the fish successfully, the plane has to be 125 feet or lower to the surface of the water in order for the fish not to dry out before they hit the surface of the lake. The typical speed of the air craft at the time of the drop is approximately 85 mph. There is a hopper located on the belly of the plane that the pilots can load from a specially designed tank fitted for the aircraft in the back seat. At precisely the correct time the pilot pushes a button on the yoke and the fish and water are released. The planes can stock up to nine bodies of water in one trip.
All of the trout that are stocked in these high mountain lakes are raised at the DOW’s hatcheries in Rifle and Salida. These two facilities have isolated water sources and the fish that they produce are rigorously tested to insure that they are free of whirling disease.
Back country visitors may see these stocking operations take place. They will begin at the end of the month and run through the first two weeks of September. All DOW planes have the DOW seal painted on the outside of the plane and are white with orange/red markings.