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Nevada eyes Spooner Lake for Lahontan trout

Patrick McCartney

Nevada Department of Wildlife biologists hit a snag in an attempt to introduce native Lahontan cutthroat trout into Spooner Lake this summer, after a population of chubs survived an effort last fall to kill them.

Catch-and-release limits on trout were removed at Spooner Lake in the fall, when the Nevada Division of State Parks began lowering the lake to make repairs on a gate valve.

Nevada wildlife officials hoped to take advantage of the repair project, which was expected to lower the lake enough that the remaining water would freeze, killing whatever fish remained.

But the plan fell apart, according to Brad Kosch, the park supervisor of Lake Tahoe Nevada State Park.

“The planting (of Lahontan trout) was secondary to the repairs,” Kosch said. “When we tried opening the gate, it wasn’t working right. We decided it couldn’t get the water level low enough.”

The valve is controlled by a 30-foot-long rod. When the rod is turned, it screws in and opens the gate at the bottom of the small dam. State Parks spent $20,000 to repair the valve.

Kosch said the plan to allow anglers to catch as many trout at Spooner before winter set in worked perfectly.

“Those first days, just about everybody caught a fish,” Kosch said. “But while there were some pretty good stringers, we were a little disappointed that there were no really big fish reported to park staff.”

Because culverts could not drain the lake fast enough, winter arrived with the lake still half full, said Mark Warren, an NDOW fisheries biologist.

“By the time it started to drain again, it was too late in the season and snow was starting to fall,” Warren said.

When biologists put out gill nets this spring, they did not find any trout left alive in the lake. But they found two species of Lahontan tui chubs that had survived the winter and were thriving.

Now, Nevada wildlife officials are planning to drain the lake again this fall, and either empty the lake completely or use poison to kill the remaining chubs.

“Hopefully, we would like to do this as naturally as possible,” Warren said. “We would like to see the chubs go down the creek and back into Lake Tahoe, where they are a native species.”

The division is preparing an environmental assessment of the plan to replace the chubs with the Lahontan cutthroat trout, and has initiated talks with the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency. State officials have not applied yet to use a poison, such as Rotenone, to kill the fish, Warren said.

He added that state wildlife officials are studying options that would allow them to eradicate the fish without the use of poison, since the TRPA rejected a request by the California Department of Fish and Game to use Rotenone in the headwaters of the Upper Truckee River.

“A chemical wouldn’t be accepted with open arms,” Warren conceded.

So, state officials are studying the possibility of lowering the level of the culverts that drain the lake to ensure that the lake drains completely this winter.

Nevada officials have attempted to restore Lahontan cutthroat in about 40 locations in the state, with about half deemed successful, said Pat Coffin, a senior staff biologist with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife.

Coffin, who leads the Lahontan restoration project, said the native trout, which does poorly in competition with brook and brown trout, remains in 125 waterways in Nevada, mostly in streams within the Humboldt River basin.

“Lahontan cutthroat can tolerate a wide range of conditions. They live in real tiny streams with harsh environments,” Coffin said. “We thought they were scarce, but as the project went forward, we found they were more abundant than we realized.”


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