The Rebirth of the Lahontan Cutthroat
...a 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.