Thousands of fish dropped from plane into Colorado alpine lakes

Colorado Parks and Wildlife stocked dozens of alpine lakes with more than 95,000 trout by airplane last week.

On Monday and Tuesday of last week, the staff from the Rifle Falls State Fish Hatchery and pilots for CPW completed the second aerial rounds in Delta and Gunnison counties. The operation was the second of three rounds happening this summer. The final operation will happen in September. Nearly 275,000 fish will be dropped into 240 lakes this summer.

The plane slows to about 85-90 mph over the lake before releasing the fish and letting them fall into the lake below, according to Jason Clay, northeast region public information officer for CPW.

“They are very tiny, the fish today. (They) 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,” Larry Gepfert, who is approaching 20 years as a pilot for CPW, said. “They just have very little mass to them so they are just kind of floating down into the water.”

Gepfert said the plane is about 100 feet above the lake when it drops the fish. He said in one flight of about two hours, they stocked nearly 50 lakes with about 40,000 fish.

While the stocked lakes were concentrated in the southern half of the state’s mountainous region, next year’s effort will focus on the northern half.

This is all part of an annual operation for managing Colorado’s high mountain lakes with more efficiency. In past years, the fish would be transported to lakes in milk cans by horseback.

“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.”

CPW says that it will take these fish a year and a half or two years to grow to a catchable size of 10 inches.

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