RENO — For the second year in a row, Nevada wildlife officials are releasing thousands of trout in the Truckee River a month earlier than usual to give them a fighting chance to survive in the cold mountain waters where they’ve spawned for centuries but face increasing threats from drought.
The state Department of Wildlife released an estimated 5,300 hatchery-raised trout into the river at four different sites around Reno on Wednesday as temperatures approached 70 degrees along the Sierra’s eastern front. It’s only the second time in 20 years they’ve dumped the fish so early in the year.
“We have to do it now or the temperature in the river gets too hot for the fish,” state fisheries biologist Travis Hawks said just before he helped scoop a net full of 10-inch rainbows into the river just east of downtown.
The fish are the first of about 35,000 that state officials plan to stock in the Truckee this spring. That’s only half the normal allotment based on expectations that river flows already will be very low by early summer.
“Mother Nature is not being very good to us this winter so we’re trying to look ahead,” Hawks said, adding that the youngest fish are the most vulnerable to the dangers that come with low flows. “As the river shrinks, more fish are in a smaller location so there is more predation.”
Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Agriculture warned water managers and users across Nevada to prepare for a fourth year of below-normal water supplies.
“Nevada’s key irrigation reservoirs continue to be very low,” the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service said in its Nevada snow survey Feb. 1. “There are two months remaining in the snow accumulation season and improvement is still possible, but a full recovery to normal is not likely for the western half of the state.”
The Truckee River runs out of Lake Tahoe, fed by Sierra streams as it makes its way down mountain canyons, through downtown Reno and eventually to Pyramid Lake 30 miles northeast of the city. Native cutthroat trout once made the entire trek about 100 miles up and down the river to spawn before dams and other diversions were built beginning about a century ago.
Aaron Keller, the state wildlife agency’s regional outdoor wildlife educator, said European settlers first brought brown and rainbow trout to the area in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
The state wildlife agency typically releases about 428,000 trout in western Nevada waters between late March and October. But it has been forced to expedite the stocking program again this year because of the forecast for continued drought.
The fish raised at the Mason Valley Hatchery about 60 miles southeast of Reno are sterile so they won’t reproduce and compete with the native cutthroats. The rainbow and brown trout are favorites of anglers, Keller said.
“They grow faster,” he said. “They fight a lot better.”