During the first week of April, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW) Feather River Hatchery will stock 51,800 yearling steelhead into the Thermalito Afterbay near Oroville. This is the second juvenile steelhead release of the year and brings the total number of steelhead stocked in the Afterbay this season to 234,000.
The practice of stocking the Afterbay with steelhead that are in excess of the Feather River allotment of 400,000 fish started in 2006 and has been very successful when the fish are available.
“The Afterbay grows fish,” explained CDFW Senior Environmental Scientist Supervisor Jay Rowan. “It’s a highly productive habitat with acres of shallow weed beds that produce huge insect hatches in the spring and summer.”
While these fish are going in at only 1/4 pound each, the juvenile steelhead will take advantage of these insect hatches and grow to catchable sizes quickly. Twenty to 24-inch fish are common later in the summer and fall.
“It is really great to be able to provide an additional fishing opportunity for the community, especially one that is accessible to shore anglers,” said Feather River Hatchery Manager Anna Kastner. “When the fishing is good, people will line up along the banks to catch these steelhead.”
The Feather River Hatchery has also stocked 303 hatchery steelhead kelts to the Thermalito Afterbay this year which provides an additional trophy fishing opportunity. The kelt program uses male hatchery steelhead that have returned from the ocean to the hatchery to spawn. Their milt is first used to fertilize eggs at the hatchery for the next generation of steelhead. The fish are then reconditioned and put in the Afterbay for anglers to catch. There are concerns that putting hatchery-produced males back in the river after they have been spawned at the hatchery could allow certain family groups to be overrepresented if that fish spawns again in the wild, which could potentially lead to inbreeding. Moving kelts to the Afterbay solves that problem, with the added bonus of providing another fishery for anglers.