California Wild and Hertigate Trout

About the California Wild and Heritage Trout

In 1889, when addressing a meeting of the American Fish Commission, David Starr Jordan, then America’s leading authority on fish, praised the mission of the U.S. Fish Commission to replace “worthless” (native) fishes with “valuable” (non-native) fishes.  Replacing worthless with a valuable species was the contemporary measure of the “public good”.   (Behnke, About Trout, 2007)

At that time native trout were considered worthless.  But today, California Department of Fish and Wildlife is committed to protecting and restoring California’s native trout.  Starting with the Trout and Steelhead Conservation and Management Planning Act of 1979 (SB 192 superseded by SB 384 (2007)), they adopted a “Wild Trout Policy” to provide designation of “aesthetically pleasing and environmentally productive” streams and lakes to be managed exclusively for wild trout, where the trout populations are managed with appropriate regulations to be “largely unaffected by the angling process.”

The DFW Commission expanded its Wild Trout Policy by establishing the Heritage Trout Program in 1998 (now incorporated into the Heritage and Wild Trout Program). The Heritage Trout Program was established to feature angling for California’s native trout and support programs to expand and restore them in their native habitats. DFW believes it’s important that we leave the wild, native trout legacy for future generations to experience.  The objectives of the Heritage Trout Program are to:

  1. Increase public awareness about the beauty, diversity, historical significance, and special values of California’s native trout and their habitats;
  2. Build public support and increase public involvement in native trout restoration efforts;
  3. Promote collaborative efforts with organizations and individuals involved with native trout restoration and management; and
  4. Diversify opportunities to fish for, observe, and enjoy native trout in their historic habitats

The “Challenge” is for an angler to catch six different native trout from their historic drainages.  This requires trial and error and/or extensive research to learn about their diversity, historic distribution, and restoration efforts.  Several historic trout can be caught at roadside locations while others are only found in remote areas.  There is no time restriction for completing the “Challenge”  You only need to log the native trout caught, identify the waters it was caught in,  and photograph each trout.  Successful anglers receive a numbered personalized certificate featuring illustrations by Joseph Tomelleri of each trout you caught. Your certificate fits a standard 16 x 20 inch matted frame and identifies dates and locations of each trout caught. The experience enables you to learn about native trout of California, determine where they are, and what is being done to conserve and restore their waters.

In 2009, Gavin O’Leary of Fresno became the 100th angler to complete the California Heritage Trout Challenge. The first 100 anglers completing the challenge came from eleven different states. On the average, eight anglers succeed in meeting the Challenge each year.

What is a heritage trout?

The Pleistocene time period lasted from 2.6 million to 11,700 years ago and is the most recent episode of global cooling or ice age that took place. Much of the world’s temperate zones were alternately covered by glaciers during cool periods and then uncovered during the warmer interglacial periods when the glaciers retreated.  As glaciers fluctuated in size they created waterways and great water basins.  (See Illustration, below)  Next was the Holocene epoch which has lasted since 11,700 years ago and characterized by having small-scale climate shifts –  most notably the “Little Ice Age” between about 1200 and 1700 A.D.  (University of California Museum of Paleontology, website Oct. 2012)

As glaciers receded, trout migrated from the ocean to inland through the waterways and water basins.  The Sacramento River, San Joaquin River, Tulare Lake basins are illustrated  below. The Lahontan basin, not shown in the illustration, was an area inclusive of northwestern Nevada, eastern California, and small section of southeastern Oregon and the largest water basin providing inland access. As these basins receded, trout populations became isolated. These isolated populations eventually evolved over thousands of generations into discrete strains and subspecies of trout. (DFW, website, October 2012)

Today, trout are California’s principal sport fish found in 3,581 cold-water lakes and reservoirs throughout state.  Noteworthy is that more than 18,000 miles of California’s cooler streams have the greatest biodiversity of native trout species of any state in the nation. (California Senate Bill No. 1148, Amended in Assembly August 20, 2012)    These native trout species have become California’s Heritage Trout, originally found in California prior to human intervention.  Heritage Trout is the designation used by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) and the Fish and Wildlife Commission (“Commission”) for native trout found in specially designated “Heritage Waters” within the historic drainages of their ancestors.  These are waters where self-sustaining native trout populations exist and have retained their genetic integrity.

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