How the 'fish business' crosses state lines


That big hog of an Alpers trout?

This summer in the Eastern Sierra’s lakes and waterways, that fish may have fed off Tim Alpers’ recipes, but it might not be a California fish at all.

Rather, it might be an Oregon fish, said Raven Angeles of the Conway Ranch Foundation.

Conway Ranch, north of Mammoth off the Hawthorne Road (S.R. 167) at times contracts with the Desert Springs Trout Farm in Eastern Oregon—Conway’s “sister ranch”—for more fish than Conway Ranch can raise right now.

“It kind of depends on the market as to how many of these fish we’ll bring in,” Angeles said. 

Conway Ranch uses Alpers’ practices in raising trout, including its special diet, and the secret was handed out to Desert Springs.

Conway ranchers have their collective antennae up this season. 

The mild winter and early runoff portend a longer-than-normal early season throughout the Eastern Sierra, which would mean thin numbers were it not for Conway’s Oregon brethren.

In fact, re-stocking the lakes was in full operation Tuesday, with a Conway crew dumping the big lunkers into Twin Lakes at Bridgeport.

Meanwhile, the ice was breaking up nicely at Twin Lakes in the Mammoth Lakes Basin, and will be ready to receive fish soon.

Angeles said Conway Ranch would bring in even more fish, but Caltrans highway restrictions and Mono County regulations so far have prevented that.

Not so, however, for other fish ranches in California.

There is Caples Lake in Kirkwood, which has brought in trout from as far away as Nebraska’s Chaulk Mound Trout Ranch in Bridgeport, Nebraska. 

A recent load arrived in six 1,000-gallon tanks on a flatbed trailer—1,200 miles later—to Caples Lake and planted 24 hours later. 

Those trophy trout also are raised with the Alpers method, given to the farm by Alpers himself.

Stocking the Eastern Sierra Lakes is a critical component of the summer economy. The Town of Mammoth Lakes last season budgeted $60,000 for stocking the Lakes Basin, according to John Urdi of Mammoth Lakes Tourism.

This year, he said, that budget has fallen to $54,000. With the town facing severe budget issues, it could fall further.

Urdi, therefore, has been proactive on the fish front.

“We want to make sure that we’ve got as many fish, and as big a fish as we can, in our lakes,” he said.

“Ultimately it would be great if Conway could be a hatchery and actually grow all the fish we need for our lakes. That would be phenomenal.”

In the meantime, if it’s an Oregon Alpers trout or a California trout, who would care?

“The idea of trying to find the fish is always a challenge,” Urdi said, “but the Conway Ranch folks have been very helpful. We just let them know what we need, and they start bringing those fish in.”