Thanks to record-high water flows and two decades of conservation action, Lahontan cutthroat trout from the Pilot Peak strain are migrating farther into native Nevada waters than they have in more than 80 years. The trout were once thought to be extinct, but work by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Complex and Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe have helped the fish successfully migrate from Pyramid Lake into the lower Truckee River.
Records from the 1800s indicate the trout used to migrate more than 120 miles from Pyramid Lake to Lake Tahoe, but by 1940, they had all but vanished from this water system. In 1995, the Lahontan National Fish Hatchery Complex began raising Lahontan cutthroat from brood stock, and in 2006 began stocking them in Pyramid Lake with the help of the Pyramid Lake Tribe. Last year was the first time conservationists observed the trout moving out of the lake and spawning naturally in the lower reaches of the Truckee River.
The USFWS, the Pyramid Lake Tribe and the Nevada Department of Wildlife (NDOW) are working together to support further migration of the trout in their historical range. NDOW recently restricted angling within 1,000 feet of Derby Dam, the furthest point hatchery biologists are allowing the fish to migrate this year. The dam is one of four barriers on the Truckee River the fish encounter as they journey upstream. The USFWS and its partners are working to improve fish passageways over these barriers in the next few years.
The Lahontan cutthroat story illustrates the promise and potential of partnership-working to achieve conservation goals. Together, state, federal and tribal partners have helped bring the trout back from the brink of extinction. Looking ahead, conservationists are hopeful that populations will continue to grow and that one day, anglers will have the opportunity to catch Lahontan cutthroat—a native fish found nowhere else in the world—in their own backyard.