Raising whopping rainbows | SierraSun.com

Raising whopping rainbows

In this day and age of super sizing, the idea of a super sized trout should not seem too far fetched. Indeed, Mt. Lassen Trout Farms has developed just such a fish. Rainbow trout in the 30-pound range hatched from eggs manipulated to produce fish with three sets of chromosomes instead of two.

I first saw an article in the Los Angeles Times last year about these fish. They coined the phrase “freakoid fishes.”

It is a pretty interesting story.

These fish have even caused a new category in the State Record Books for hatchery rainbow trout. The rationale is that it would have been unfair to count these fish in with the natural occurring rainbows that have been in the record books. Strange, it is a lot like baseball records and steroids.

These fish were developed at Mt. Lassen Trout Farms, which is a network of spring-fed hatcheries near Red Bluff. Fish that are pushing 30 pounds have been created.

The process of achieving triploid eggs is tricky. Thermo-shocking with hot water must occur precisely between the two-cell and four-cell stage of miotic cellular division, about 10 minutes after fertilization, which results in the fish retaining an extra set of chromosomes. The extra set renders that trout sterile, allowing them to conserve energy that would otherwise be spent on the development of sexual organs or mating. According to Phil Mackey, general manager of the Farms, it occurs fairly frequently in nature. They are just making it happen more frequently by manipulating the spawning cycle.

The use of triploid technology is just now becoming widespread as state fishery agencies seek guarantees against genetic contamination of wild stocks. Because triploid trout are sterile, they can share lakes and streams with wild brown trout or steelhead trout. And because they can continue to grow after diploid trout slow down to begin sexual development, at about two years, triploids are attractive as trophy fish.

Other private hatcheries have started to use the same techniques to get trout weighing over 20 pounds. In spite of the egg manipulating, the world record rainbow of 42 pounds and two ounces caught in 1970 off Bell Island, Alaska, is safe.

Raising trophy trout is apparently excellent business. A Southern California company has an exclusive agreement with Mt. Lassen to buy the biggest rainbows that they can produce. They paid nearly $800,000 to stock their waters with these trophy fish. About 5,000 to 10,000 customers pay $18 per day to fish the lakes. This generates at least $90,000 per day and more than $14,000,000 during a six-month trout season beginning in early November. This is an absolutely astounding figure. Fishing is big business!

The current state record for a hatchery rainbow trout is 28.33 pounds, caught in a private lake in Butte County on Jan. 3. The record has been set three times in about two years and will certainly fall again soon as these fish continue to get larger!

In case you are wondering, the largest rainbow caught in California not of hatchery origin was caught in Lake Natoma in Sacramento County and weighed 27 pounds. That fish was caught on Oct. 2, 2005. The largest steelhead rainbow (a rainbow trout that is reared in freshwater and goes out to the ocean and returns to freshwater to spawn) was a 27.4-pound specimen caught in the Smith River in Del Norte County on Dec. 22, 1976.

Because people have a fascination with big fish, we will continue to see fish raised to obtain even larger proportions. Purists certainly do not like the idea. But who can argue from a business standpoint?

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