About the Lahontan Cutthroat
History - The Lahontan cutthroat is native to the drainages of the Truckee River, Humboldt River, Carson River, Walker River, Quinn River and several smaller rivers in the Great Basin of North America. These were tributaries of ancient Lake Lahontan during the ice ages until the lake shrank to remnants such as Pyramid Lake and Walker Lake about 7,000 years ago, although Lake Tahoe—from which the Truckee flows to Pyramid Lake—is still a large mountain lake.
Lahontan cutthroats evolved into a large (up to 1 m or 39 in) and moderately long-lived predator of chub, suckers, and other fish as long as 30 or 40 cm (16 in). The trout was able to remain a predator in the larger remnant lakes where prey fish continued to flourish, but upstream populations were forced to adapt to eating smaller fish and insects. Some experts consider O. c. henshawi in the upper Humboldt River and tributaries to be a separate subspecies, O. clarkii humboldtensis or the Humboldt cutthroat trout, adapted to living in small streams rather than large lakes.
When settlement of the Great Basin began in the early 1800's, the Lahontan cutthroat began its decline to near extinction. During the 19th and early 20th centuries, Lahontan cutthroats were harvested in great numbers (up to 1,000,000 lbs. each year from 1860 to 1920) and were shipped to towns and mining camps throughout the Western US. First, a dam in Mason Valley blocked spawning runs from Walker Lake. By 1905, the Derby Dam on the Truckee River below Reno stopped Pyramid Lake's spawning runs. A poorly designed fish ladder washed away in 1907, then badly timed water diversions to farms in the Fallon, Nevada area stranded spawning fish and desiccated eggs below the dam. By 1943, Pyramid Lake's population was extinct. Lake Tahoe's population was extinct by 1930 from competition and inbreeding with introduced rainbow trout , predation by introduced lake trout, and diseases introduced along with these exotic species.
Conservation success story - The first efforts to repopulate Pyramid Lake with Lahontan cutthroats began in 1970 when the local Paiute tribe opened a hatchery and began stocking Pyramid Lake with a Summit Lake strain of Lahontans. This effort developed into a fine fishery, but the Summit Lake strain did not live as long and did not grow as large as the native strain once had.
In the late 1970's, famous fish biologist Robert Behnke identified a small trout he found in the Pilot Peak streams of eastern Nevada as being the long believed extinct Lahontan cutthroat trout. Evidently, In the early 1900s, before Fish and Wildlife Services even existed, a wildlife commission (name unknown) took small fish from Pyramid Lake and Lake Tahoe and transported then in buckets by train and placed them in streams in eastern Nevada and across the border in Utah (Pilot Peak area). Many of the streams already had populations of fish, but the Pilot Peak streams were fish-less, and the Lahontans survived. At the time, there were no genetic tools to determine if the fish was really the same species. In the 1990's, tools for genetic testing were being developed to help determine if the trout found by Behnke in the Pilot Peak area were really the true genetic offspring of the enormous Lahontan cutthroat trout that had once populated Pyramid Lake and other waters of the Great Basin.
In the early 2000's, University of Nevada, (Reno) Associate Professor of Biology Mary Peacock became involved with the research and recovery of the Lahontan cutthroat trout at the request of the US Fish and Wildlife Service. As there were no original Lahontan cutthroat trout left in Lake Tahoe, Pyramid Lake or the Truckee River, Peacock and researchers turned to museums for genetic samples of the historic fish. Several museums has "mounts" of known original Lahontan cutthroat. Peacock and her team took samples from these mounted fish and developed the methodology necessary to do the genetic testing on them. "We asked a very basic question: ‘Who do these fish look most similar to?'" Peacock said. "We probably had 50 populations in this analysis. So we took those fish (those found by Behnke in the Pilot Peak area), and we compared them to all the populations and did the genetic analysis - and bingo! They're the original dudes."
In 2006, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in partnership with the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, stocked the Pilot Peak strain back into its home waters in Pyramid Lake. The fish thrived for several years, growing bigger and bigger. It was not long before people began catching 20-pound cutthroats in Pyramid Lake. Today, anglers are catching trout up to 30 pounds. The big monsters have returned.
About the Lahontan Cutthroat - The Lahontan Cutthroat Trout (Oncorhynchus clarki henshawi) is the largest cutthroat trout species and is the state fish of Nevada. It is one of the 14 recognized subspecies of cutthroat. The present distribution is limited to just a few lakes and streams in and closely surrounding its historic range (Northern Nevada, Southeast Oregon and Northeastern California). Historic records indicate there were at least 11 lakes and up to 600 streams inhabited by Lahontans in 1844—those numbers have been reduced to just five lakes and fewer than 130 rivers and streams. The stream dwelling fish have (typically) a dark olive back and red/yellowish sides.the larger lake-dwelling Lahontans are often more silver. Lahontan cutthroat are stream spawners and have the same basic requirement as other trout. The largest recorded Lahontan trout weighed in at 41 pounds but anecdotal records indicate there may have been fish as large as 60 lbs.