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Eagle Lake Trout: The tasty fish unique to California | Bartell's Backroads

See the shocking way wildlife managers keep the rare fish from going extinct.

SUSANVILLE, Calif. — Every year before the opening day of fishing season, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife goes on a fishing trip of their own in Lassen County’s Eagle Lake. Except on this trip, they don’t use fishing poles or bait. 

Instead, they use an electric generator and probes that pump around 48 volts of electricity into the water. It may seem a little unfair to fish with electricity, but Biologist Paul Divine and his team are actually helping to keep one specific kind of fish from going extinct.

“Because of drought, it's been difficult for the fish to spawn naturally,” says Divine. 

The shocking device doesn’t kill the fish, it just stuns them for long enough for the biologist and his team to scoop them up with a net, and on this trip, they are only after one type of fish: the rare Eagle Lake Trout. 

“Our goal is about 300 females Eagle Lake Trout on this trip,” says Divine. 

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Eagle Lake Trout are unique species of fish only found in the alkaline-rich waters of Eagle Lake.

“In the south end we’ve recorded a Ph of 9.5,” says Divine.

Normal drinking water should be a Ph of 7, or neutral, but that’s not the case in Eagle Lake. 

"It is a 'closed basin,' meaning there is no outlet,” says Divine. 

The lake is basically a massive puddle. Water goes in but not out, and when snow melts or rain falls, it brings down minerals from the foothills of Lassen National Forest.

In the summer, water evaporates and leaves behind a large concentration of minerals. The high Ph levels have killed off most fish, but not the trout. 

“They’ve adapted to it,” says Divine.

Long before California was a state, fish survived naturally in the lake. When settlers arrived, commercial fishing reduced populations and the construction of the Bly irrigation tunnel significantly lowered lake levels. 

“It dropped the lake approximately 35 feet,” says Divine. 

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Fishing regulations were eventually put in place and the irrigation tunnel was closed off, but for the past 10 years, drought has significantly reduced water in Pine Creek, the trout’s only natural spawning bed.

There is a fish hatchery up Pine Creek, but when the water dries up biologists must resort to shocking the fish and spawning them on the lakeshore. The Department of Fish and Wildlife has been spawning Eagle Lake Trout as far back as the 1940s and has seen great success.

Thanks to years of managing the population have not only rebounded, but they’ve also become abundant enough to open up a fishing season. These days, Eagle Lake Trout is one of the most coveted trout in California, bringing anglers from all over the world to Eagle Lake.

“They are one of the best trout you’ll eat. It’s really comparable to a salmon or steelhead from the ocean,” says Divine.

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