State Designation Protects and Enhances California’s Wild Trout Fisheries and Provides Special Angling Opportunities for the Public

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is observing the 50th anniversary of the first designated “Wild Trout Waters” in the state, an innovative wild trout conservation and management routine at the vanguard of the nation’s modern environmental movement of the 1960s and 1970s— a designation still benefitting California anglers today.

In 1971, the California Fish and Game Commission adopted a Wild Trout Policy to provide the 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,” according to the CDFW.

The nonprofit, San Francisco-based wild trout conservation organization was formed the same year. CDFW’s Wild Trout Program, called the Heritage and Wild Trout Program, was created to protect and enhance the state’s wild trout fisheries while preserving wild trout fishing for the public. The program was born when the national consciousness began acclimating to negative impacts on natural resources, including population declines among fish, wildlife, and plant species.

In 1972, the Commission assigned 17 streams as Wild Trout Waters and has added to those waters every year since. Under the California Fish and Game Code, the Commission must add at least 25 miles of stream and at least one lake to the program annually.

“This anniversary is a huge milestone,” said Curtis Knight, executive director of California Trout, in a press release from Oct. 24. “CalTrout has been proud to promote and partner with CDFW on the Heritage and Wild Trout Program since its inception. We believe this program was progressive and cutting-edge when it was established in the 1970s. Today it has evolved and continues to be one of the country’s most effective fish water policies.”

The North Fork Mokelumne River and Silver Lake in Tulare County were both designated Wild Trout Waters in early October.

Since its founding, the program has focused on managing and enhancing California’s wild, self-sustaining trout populations. The program was expanded in 1988 to include conserving native trout species within their historical ranges and renamed the Heritage and Wild Trout Program. In 2003, the Heritage Trout Challenge was launched to urge anglers to explore waters that support native trout species. Anglers that catch any six of the state’s qualifying ten native trout species from their historic drainages are recognized by CDFW with a personalized award for their accomplishments.

Over the years, CDFW’s Heritage and Wild Trout Program has had far-reaching impacts on fisheries management and angling culture by:

  • Raising awareness and education of California’s native trout species.
  • Driving monitoring and formal management plans for trout.
  • Fostering a catch-and-release fishing ethic that has become standard practice to protect self-sustaining wild trout and other fisheries.
  • Managing for genetic integrity by avoiding stocking hatchery trout into designated waters and working to prevent hybridization.
  • Serving as an example for other states to promote fishing and conservation of their native trout species and catch-and-release fishing. For example, the 12-state Western Native Trout Challenge was modeled after CDFW’s Heritage Trout Challenge.

More information is available by visiting the Heritage and Wild Trout Program web page.

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