CRESTLINE — German brown trout are being stocked at Gregory Lake in the San Bernardino Mountains this year as part of the lake’s regular trout planting program. The season allotment for the browns is slated to be 6,000 pounds. The best news is that the fish are all larger-sized specimens around 1½ to 2 pounds or bigger.
The DFG and local anglers are hoping trout anglers at the lake release the browns for two reasons. First, so they have a chance to feast on all the tiny crappie in the lake. Mike Giusti, a fishery biologist with the Department of Fish and Game, said he was hopeful the browns would knock down the population of stunted crappie in the lake — in fact, that’s the main reason they were planted. If the crappie numbers were reduced, they might actually get decent sized. Today, most Gregory crappie max out at about three inches long. Second, the browns have the potential to reach even bigger proportions after just a year of feeding on the stunted crappie. Those one to 2-pound browns being released now are likely to double in size in a year, and they could weigh from five to 7 pounds in just two seasons. Release them now and catch them bigger later.
Gregory was planted with brown trout over a decade ago, but few of the fish were ever seen again, and none grew into trophy size. The problem might have been that they were all planted as small trout. Gary Williams, the DFG's hatchery senior hatchery supervisor for this region, said the goal was to plant them as half-pound (catchable-sized) or bigger trout this time to see if they survived longer.
“My thing was to do it a little different this time and hold them a little longer [in the hatchery],” said Williams. “They really took off and have been growing really well.” Williams said by the time it was time to stock the browns this spring, most of the fish were in the 1½-to 2-pound class or maybe even a little bigger.
While Williams was hopeful anglers would release browns this first season and then keep them in following years as trophy fish, he was confident that a lot of the fish wouldn’t be caught by anglers.
“There are going to be holdovers,” said Williams. He was sure the browns would move to deeper water, adapt to the abundant food supply in Gregory, and become difficult for anglers to catch. Brown trout have the reputation as the most difficult of all trout to catch and while a few have been caught right after the plants, they seem to get scarce after that, showing up only occasionally on anglers’ stringers.
BROWN TROUT IN DIAMOND VALLEY: The DFG has also been planting brown trout in Diamond Valley Lake in hopes of creating a trophy trout fishery there, and the fish have been planted there several times in the last six years, according to Giusti. But few have been caught by anglers. Well, at least until this year. The brown trout planted this spring have been the same size as the fish as those being planted in Lake Gregory.
Prior to this spring, all the plants of browns in DVL have been fingerling or subcatchable-size (fish from two to six inches long), just like Gregory’s original brown trout plants. Giusti is hopeful this year’s browns will manage to survive in DVL and finally reach the mammoth proportions (10-plus pounds) biologists and hatchery managers are sure those trout can reach with the right forage.
ONGOING BROWN TROUT PROGRAM: The best news is that the brown trout are now part of an ongoing program in Southern California, and other waters may be evaluated and planted with browns in the future.
If your mind isn’t spinning with waters you think could benefit with a trophy brown trout element, you must not be a trout fisherman. Here’s my short list:
— Casitas Lake: The DFG stopped stocking rainbows on the off-chance they might get below the dam and mingle with nearly non-existent steelhead trout and screw up the gene pool. It was all part of the hatchery lawsuit fiasco. Not that issue with the browns, and they would restore the great summertime trout trolling fishery for quality holdover fish that got fat on shad. This fishery has almost disappeared.
— Jenks Lake: This little jewel in the San Bernardino Mountains already gets an occasional brown trout from the Santa Ana River water used to fill it, but adding a few browns each year would add a different trout fishing element and maybe a few would get really big.
— Big Bear Lake: This is an obvious choice. Bear Creek below the lake already has brown trout, so we’re not putting anything into a watershed that isn’t already there, and this lake is ideal for growing the browns up to hefty sizes. They’ll just do what the rainbows are already doing, but better.
— Lake Hemet: Like with Big Bear, there are already brown trout in the watershed below the lake, and Hemet is high enough and deep enough that the browns would holdover from year to year surprising anglers with an occasional trophy fish.
— Silverwood Lake: Before stripers, Silverwood Lake produced brown trout to 10 pounds after a couple of plants three decades ago, and a whole bunch of two- to three-pound browns. But we might want to wait before putting them back in here to see how the catchable-browns do at DVL with its stripers.
TROUT PLANTED IN CRYSTAL LAKE: A year after Highway 39 above Azusa reopened to Crystal Lake, the DFG has resumed restocking this popular little mountain lake with rainbow trout. So far, there were plants the first week of May and last week, and the plan is for the lake to get stocked about twice a month through the summer.
Anglers started asking about when the DFG would start stocking the lake since March last year when the road reopened, and the DFG immediately looked at the lake and found the road they once used to bring in the stocking truck to the water was in poor condition. They also had to clear the lake with a biological assessment to make sure it didn’t violate the terms of the hatchery lawsuit and settlement. All the hurdles have been cleared and the trout are back.
The Crystal Lake campground is open again and the snack bar is back in operation after sitting idle since 2002, when the road to the lake was closed after the Curve Fire. Highway 39 has been closed past Crystal Lake since it washed out in 1978, and it will never be reopened all the way to Highway 2, connecting with Wrightwood, because it cuts right through bighorn sheep lambing grounds.