The $30,000 fish
Each fall, people flock to Taylor Creek at Lake Tahoe to watch the “kokanee parade.”
Thousands of brilliant-red kokanee salmon – a landlocked cousin of the sockeye – move upstream to spawn and die in the little creek’s cold, clear water.
Lars Droivold is a Nevada City man who’s helped keep the kokanee parade going in California.
He’s one of the original members of “Project Kokanee,” an ad hoc group of anglers formed after the state Department of Fish and Game decided in 1992 to stop planting kokanee.
“Financial reasons. Something like that. Same old government stuff” prompted the state’s decision, Droivold said.
The anglers took matters in their own hands – literally. Each year, Project Kokanee volunteers collect the eggs that are raised in state fish hatcheries and planted in California’s lakes.
“We (collect) all the kokanee that are planted in California now,” Droivold said. “If it wasn’t for all the volunteers in the organization, we wouldn’t have all the success we’ve had today.”
“It’s fun,” he said. “But it’s a job, too.”
This year, Project Kokanee volunteers collected 1,250,000 eggs at Taylor Creek.
Weeks ahead of time, they put aluminum grates in the creek to block the fish from swimming upstream. Then they used nets to scoop up the trapped fish. Volunteers squeeze eggs out of the females and mix the eggs in aluminum bowls with milt, or sperm, from the male fish.
“They’re almost instantly fertilized,” Droivold said.
The eggs were taken to two state fish hatcheries and are being raised in incubators purchased by Project Kokanee.
In the spring, when the juvenile kokanee are about 2 to 3 inches long, they’ll be hauled off in state Department of Fish and Game trucks and planted in about 20 lakes all around the state, including Scotts Flat, Bowman, Spaulding, Boca and Stampede reservoirs in Nevada County.
Kokanee were first introduced in California in 1941. They feed on zooplankton, so they don’t compete with game fish such as rainbow or brown trout, Droivold said.
A small, soft-mouthed fish, kokanee can be tricky to catch.
But addictive. During kokanee fishing season, Droivold fishes for them two or three times a week.
He says Project Kokanee’s efforts have been good for anglers, good for wildlife that eat kokanee (such as bears, otters, osprey and bald eagles) and good for the state’s fishing business, including manufacturers of downriggers, boats and lures.
“I don’t know why (people) spend $30,000 catching a 12-inch fish, but they do it,” Droivold said.
To volunteer for Project Kokanee, get an application at Miner Moe’s Pizza, 716 Freeman Lane in Grass Valley, or call Scott Bartosh, a Nevada County fishing guide who is on Project Kokanee’s board, at 478-1986.
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