Trout plants halted - it's a load of bullfrogs!

On a magic morning at San Pablo Reservoir, for years the best fishing lake in the Bay Area, we caught 10 rainbow trout that weighed nearly 30 pounds, one of the finest two-angler trout limits I've ever seen. That will never happen again.
Then there was the summer day at Loch Lomond Reservoir near Ben Lomond in the Santa Cruz Mountains. We caught several trout, then landed our boat on an island with a picnic site and barbecued the fish on the spot. What a moment. Now it looks like Loch Lomond is done forever.

Up in the Sierra, on a stormy, late spring day at Spicer Meadows Reservoir in the high country, we caught something like 35 to 40 trout ranging 14 to 22 inches in three hours. Now it's goodbye Spicer.

Try to imagine the early-summer flyfishing out of a canoe at pretty Gumboot Lake in the Trinity Divide, casting black leeches, strip retrieve, and catching a trout on nearly every cast in the last two hours of light. Must have released 30 or so. It will never happen again.

San Pablo, Loch Lomond, Spicer Meadows and Gumboot are among 175 lakes and streams in California that will no longer receive trout plants thanks to a lawsuit settlement this past week between the Department of Fish and Game and environmentalists.

The Center for Biological Diversity sued the DFG mainly to protect frogs and pollywogs, charging that fish can't be stocked without the DFG completing an Environmental Impact Report. Even though the DFG has stocked many of the lakes for generations, it's over now at many of the best. The ban takes effect immediately.

In the Bay Area, the DFG halted trout stocks at Bon Tempe, Lagunitas and Alpine lakes in Marin, and Stevens Creek Reservoir near Monta Vista on the south peninsula. That means from Novato in north Marin on south to San Jose, the only lake left with fishing is troubled Lake Merced in San Francisco, where trout plants and fishing under the San Francisco Recreation and Parks Department has deteriorated to a joke.

According to the DFG, this settlement was the best it could hope for after the Center for Biological Diversity and Pacific Rivers Council sued the DFG in October of 2006. The Stanford Environmental Law Clinic represented the enviros and argued in Superior Court that the DFG should be required to complete an Environmental Impact Report for each lake or stream before the DFG could be permitted to plant trout at any of them.

That threatened to stop all trout plants, said Jordan Traverso, DFG deputy director.

"We actually were pleased with the negotiations," Traverso said. "When we got into court Nov. 7, we were told to work something out or stop the plants."

The DFG did not choose the list of lakes and streams where plants will be stopped, she said. Rather a list of parameters was put in place. The presence of any of 27 species, most prominently, frogs and tadpoles, the size of the lake, whether it was a reservoir or natural lake, and whether it was connected to rivers, determined if it was blacklisted, Traverso said.

CEQA the hammer

"The premise in the original lawsuit was that our trout planting program was not compliant to CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act), that we had not undergone an EIR (Environmental Impact Report) for each lake," Traverso said. "That means the department is required to create an environmental impact report for something that has been going on for more than 100 years."

On the surface, the cutbacks are intended to protect frogs and pollywogs, which trout occasionally feed on. But several state and federal scientists told me that the ban on trout plants will do nothing to increase frog populations.

Traverso acknowledged that. "There could be a million other factors (with frogs and pollywogs) that have nothing to do with fish stocking," she said.

At a wilderness lake in the Humphrey Basin in the high Sierra, all trout in the lake were netted out and killed to protect endangered frogs. Yet all of the frogs died anyway the following year, killed by chitrid fungus, according to Roland Knapp of the Sierra Nevada Research Laboratory. "It's a mystery and we don't know who the real bad guy is," Knapp said at the time. Although Knapp is a proponent of eliminating trout, he admitted that the trout had nothing to do with all the frogs disappearing at the test lake in the Humphrey Basin.

Noah Greenwald, program director for the Center for Biological Diversity, lead party of the lawsuit, issued this statement in regard to his victory to stop plants at 175 lakes and streams: "Interim measures limiting stocking are needed to help save California's native fish and frogs from extinction." He didn't return a phone call. I wanted to ask him how many of the 175 lakes and streams being blacklisted has he actually been to.

Impacts widespread

The scope of the plant shutdown is stunning in some areas.

It includes: Lake Amador, one of the best trout lakes in the Sacramento Valley foothills; Taylor Lake in the Russian Wilderness, the only wheelchair-accessible wilderness lake with trout fishing in the state; Ice House Reservoir, the sensational fishing lake in the Crystal Basin; and the Yuba River along Highway 49, one of the best trout streams in the Sierra.

An example of how the shutdown could devastate an area's economy is the Highway 4 corridor, where pretty Alpine Lake, Mosquito Lake and Spicer Meadows provide the only lakes with fishing. Stocking trout will be stopped at all three, leaving roughly a 100-mile range across the Sierra that runs from Angels Camp through Murphys, Arnold, Dorrington and Bear Valley, with no lake to fish.

At this point, with the highest-priced fishing license in the nation, the only DFG response that would make sense would be to immediately increase stocks wherever they are permitted. By law, one-third of all fishing license money is required to go to the DFG trout program, which would roughly double stocks at the lakes on the "OK list" if finally implemented.

At the same time, the success of this lawsuit by environmental factions should throw a scare into all who fish or hunt. With the same premise, that an EIR is required before fish are stocked or hunting is permitted, a similar lawsuit could shut down virtually any fishing or hunting program.

No stocks

Notable lakes and streams that will not be stocked in the future include (north to south):

Bay-Delta region: Contra Costa County: Lafayette Res., San Pablo Res.; Marin County: Alpine Lake, Bon Tempe Res., Lagunitas Lake; Napa County: Lake Hennessey; Santa Clara County: Cottonwood Lake, Coyote Res., Lexington Res., Stevens Creek Res.; Santa Cruz County: Loch Lomond Res.; Solano County: Putah Creek, Lake Solano.

North Central region: Alpine County: Alpine Lake, Upper Blue Lake, Carson River (both East Fork and West Fork), Mosquito Lake, Silver Creek, Spicer Meadows Res., Union Res. Amador County: Lake Amador, Bear River Res., Mokelumne River. Butte County: Paradise Res., Thermalito Forebay.

Calaveras County: White Pines Lake; Colusa County: Letts Lake. El Dorado County: American River, both Silver Fork and South Fork; Echo Lakes, Ice House Res., Jenkinson Lake, Stumpy Meadows Res., Taylor Creek, Wrights Lake. Glenn County: Plaskett Meadow Pond.

Lake County: Upper Blue Lake, Cache Creek, Indian Valley Res., Lake Pillsbury. Nevada County: Boca Res., Bowman Lake, Donner Lake, Lyons Lake, Martis Creek Res., Prosser Res. Rollins Lake, Scott Flat Lake, Lake Spaulding; Placer County: Sugar Pine Res., Truckee River. Plumas County: Antelope Lake, Middle Fork and North Fork Feather River, Jamison Creek, Spanish Creek. Sacramento County: Lake Natoma. Sierra County: Little Truckee River, Yuba River.

Northern region: Humboldt County: Freshwater Lagoon. Siskiyou County: Castle Lake, Dobkins Lake, Gumboot Lake, Big Hancock Lake, Sky High Lakes, Taylor Lake, Toad Lake, Paradise Lake, many others in Trinity Alps, Russian and Marble Mountain Wilderness areas. Trinity County: Boulder Lake, Bull Lake, Grizzly Lake, Tamarack Lake. Lassen County: Ash Creek. Modoc County: South Fork Pit River.

Central region: Kern County: Kern River. Tulare County: Kaweah River, lower Kern River. Tuolumne County: South Fork Stanislaus River.

Eastern Sierra: Inyo County: Pine Creek. Mono/Madera County: Sotcher Lake.

Complete list: Go to, then click on news item in far right column.

- Tom Stienstra

"The Great Outdoors With Tom Stienstra" airs Sundays at 12:30 p.m. on KMAX-31 in Sacramento. E-mail Tom Stienstra at

This article appeared on page D - 11 of the San Francisco Chronicle