San Bernardino County Parks launches trout season with first plants this week

The San Bernardino County Regional Parks Department has finally begun planting trout in all five of its urban park lakes — including Cucamonga-Guasti, Glen Helen, Mojave Narrows, Prado, and Yucaipa parks. The plants were made late this week when all five parks were closed Thursday and Friday as a precaution after the terrorist shooting in San Bernardino on Wednesday. The parks all were set to reopen on Saturday, Dec. 5.

These initial trout plants are six weeks later than the first stockings normally arrive at these popular fishing lakes, and the number of trout to be stocked during the 2015-16 season has been reduced from previous years.

Disgruntled anglers have been calling all of the park lakes and the main county park offices daily trying to get information, and rather than tell anglers what was going on the parks staff was simply told to tell anglers that no start date had been set yet.

San Bernardino County Parks traditionally has had one of the best recreational trout stocking programs in Southern California, rivaling the much higher-priced private lakes in both volume and size of fish planted. The past two seasons the five parks’ lakes were planted with 175,000 pounds of rainbows from Chalk Mound Trout Ranch in Bridgeport, Neb., and Jess Ranch Lakes’ hatchery in Hesperia. Because of the late start and other factors, the lakes will receive about 50,000 pounds fewer fish this season.

Three primary factors led to the delay in stocking and the reduction of plants this year.

First, one of the state’s major producers of trout for the recreational fishing marketplace Calaveras Trout Farm in Snelling closed its doors suddenly when the Merced Irrigation District shut down the water supply to all of its clients, including the hatchery. Drought had just about dried up the watershed and there simply wasn’t enough water for irrigation or hatchery use.

This sent all of Calaveras’ historic clients scrambling to other growers to try and get rainbow trout, creating an instant shortage of fish. Since the rainbows can’t be grown overnight, most of the hatcheries had only modest surpluses of fish and could only partially make up for the loss of Calavaras.

Second, costs for the trout increased significantly, as much as 40 percent. This wasn’t just because demand was so high, all of the growers — including the state Department of Fish and Wildlife — have been forced to pay much higher costs for trout feed the past two years, seriously impacting the number and size of fish they could grow without raising prices. This year, demand and costs forced the prices up.

Third, San Bernardino County didn’t put its request for bids out to the growers until Oct. 1 this year so it had no fish reserved. Typically, the request was made by June or July putting the county at the front of the line for fish. One of the major producers submitted a “no bid” because the contract was so “onerous,” and he was already oversold for the season. To make matters worse and continue the delay, the county rejected the first bids that came in because of costs and resent the request for new bids to growers. But the county wasn’t able to get a reduced price.

The contract with Chalk Mound and Jess Ranch was not final until Monday (Nov. 30), and the first trout were delivered on Thursday.

If there is any good news, it is that most of the private hatchery trout delivered this year will be two-pound class fish, slightly larger than previous years. That will be in stark contrast to the Department of Fish and Wildlife rainbow trout, which will be planted smaller in size and with less poundage than normal years.

The first DFW trout plants in the county park lakes were made the week of Nov. 15-21, when Glen Helen, Mojave Narrows, Prado, and Yucaipa were all planted with 200 pounds of half-pound rainbows. This week additional DFW plants were made at Mojave Narrows, Prado, and Yucaipa. Cucamonga-Guasti has not received any DFW fish yet this season, and Glen Helen has only had the one plant so far.

ORANGE COUNTY TROUT PLANT NEWS: The first plant of the season at Laguna Niguel Park Lake went in Thanksgiving week, and the popular Orange County water is tentatively scheduled to get trout plants every other week. However, next week’s plant could be delayed a week before the “alternate weeks” schedule kicks in. Anglers can call the lake at 949-923-2240 to confirm when the next plant will be made.

Laguna Niguel had been run by a private concessionaire for the past 20 years, but Orange County Parks did not renew the concession and county staff will be running the fishing program this year. 

While the total number of pounds of trout planted will be reduced from previous years (about half), the fees to fish have also been slashed. Last year, anglers paid $28 per person, but this year the cost is just the daily parking fee, which is $5 on weekends and $3 on weekdays. There are no additional fishing fees, which makes it far more affordable for families.

GRIM NEWS FOR BAKERSFIELD PLANTS: The only water in the Bakersfield region to get trout plants so far this season is Buena Vista Lakes, which has received two private plants of rainbow trout totaling 3,000 pounds, and it is slated to get another 1,000-pound plant this week. There have been no Department of Fish and Wildlife plants, and none are currently on the DFW schedule.

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