Trout at the Treeline: Aerial Stocking in Utah’s Alpine Lakes

Fish fall from the sky, thick as the raindrops of a July thunderstorm. 

The fingerling trout flutter down, landing gently on the surface of one of the hundreds of high alpine lakes of Utah’s Uinta Mountains. The plane that dropped them climbs and banks off toward its next target. It’s a far cry from the pack-mule-and-milk-can origins of alpine fish stocking, but it’s nevertheless a practice that’s been in regular use for well over half a century in these mountains and many others throughout the western United States.

“Nowadays we have airplanes where you basically hit a button and there are valves that release the fish,” says Phil Tuttle, outreach manager for the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources. “But when it was first done, it was actually a guy just sitting with the door open on the airplane, dumping the fish from a milk can into the lake.”

The DWR-owned Cessna 185s used for stocking today are retrofitted with large aluminum tanks capable of holding hundreds of pounds of water and fish. Each large tank is divided into seven smaller tanks controlled by valves, allowing for the stocking of that many different lakes in a single flight…

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