Fish Stocking by the Bucket | Bishop Visitor Information Center
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Last month I stumbled upon a volunteer activity that really caught my attention – stocking Hot Creek with fish by bucket brigade! I quickly signed up and showed up at the parking area above the geothermal pools with a good crowd of other volunteers on a crisp October morning.

.image of Hot Creek on a fall morning

Why the bucket brigade?

We were briefed by Dr. Mark Drew, eastern Sierra CalTrout Headwaters project director, on the health of the Hot Creek fishery, and the project he’s been working on since 2016.

image of small group of people receiving instruction for the fish plant.

A 2007 survey by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife counted 12,000 fish per mile — one of the highest densities of wild trout in California. A follow-up in 2016 indicated the number had plummeted by a staggering 92 percent. Dr. Drew believes a Perfect Storm of factors is probably responsible; he listed the opening of Hot Creek to winter fishing without the promised Department of Fish and Wildlife annual health monitoring, the prolonged drought, and the concomitant 50% decreased in the flow of the spring that feeds the stream as probable causes.

The department adopted a shock-and-stock approach on Hot Creek, annually monitoring the progress of planting 20,000 (able to reproduce) sub-catchable trout each of the last two years — 12,000 rainbows and 8,000 browns, in the 3- to 4-inch range. Records are unclear, but it’s likely been decades since the wild stream was stocked, making the drastic intervention historic. The hope is that a hearty, sustainable population takes hold again. The stream will be stocked with 12,000 fish every year hereafter until annual population surveys indicate that there are 6,000 fish per mile of stream.

close-up image of small brown trout in a bucket.        close up image of small rainbow trout in a bucket.

DFW has done a quick study and finds no issues with water quality or food availability, and this is the third year for the bucket planting. Results are promising.

image of a man walking with a bucket of fish.

Photo: Fred Rowe

image of man holding a bucket of fish.

Photo: Fred Rowe

When a group of 25 people surveyed the stream in September of 2017, 80 percent of the trout were identified as “planters.” Surveyors used a  backpack capable of delivering 400 to 700 volts to shock sections of the stream. The “shockers” were followed by “live cars” — vented, plastic garbage cans that allow water flow — where stunned fish are deposited. James Erdman, a Fish and Wildlife biologist, estimated the largest trout landed was a 24-inch brown, but added “there were quite a few great browns in that 20-24 range.” Fish numbers jumped about 20 percent from 2016 to ’17, Erdman said, adding that they were “guardedly optimistic”.

The stream was shocked and trout counted again earlier this fall, and Dr. Drew indicated that the numbers were promising. Our job would be to deposit another 20,000 fish by forming a bucket brigade along the creek to the west of the geothermal pools (which form a natural barrier from the fish downstream).

How it went down

image of man carrying bucket down a hill.    image of truck with fish tank on the bed.

We spread ourselves out along the trail while Department of Fish and Wildlife employees filled the buckets, complete with little aerators. Buckets of live trout were passed from hand to hand upstream. At the end of the brigade the fish were gently released into the creek.

image of a man standing in a stream.

Photo: Fred Rowe

image of fish being transferred from a bucket to the creek.

Photo: Fred Rowe

Empty buckets were quickly transferred back up the line to be refilled.

image of a woman with a load of buckets.

We were a jovial group and people had come from quite a distance to help out; including southern California and Las Vegas. Hot Creek is a beloved fishery,  and people are very invested in its health. After a few hours and many hands, all the fish were in the water. We high-fived each other and now we wait for the next survey – holding on to hope for Hot Creek to thrive again.

If you want to go

Hot Creek is open for fishing all year with special regulations: Only artificial flies with barbless hooks may be used, and with a zero limit (catch and release only).

And remember that the Upper and Lower Owens are also great winter/ Year round fisheries…

Be sure to tag us when you post your photos: we are @visitbishop on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!


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9 hours ago

Love these historic photos from Tales Along El Camino Sierra.Two great photos from the tallest peak in the lower 48. 1-Visitors enjoying trip to the Alabama Hills with majestic Mt. Whitney looming behind them. Photo 2-A group on horseback back when horses were allowed to go all the way to the summit. This Frasher photo postcard is from the 1930s. ... See MoreSee Less

Love these historic photos from Tales Along El Camino Sierra.


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We miss the inyo county! So much to see and experience!

Great book.

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9 hours ago

We really like this concept - why limit yourself to just summer vacations? Bishop is a great destination year-round! Thanks for the shout-out, Visit USA Parks .Let's dismiss the idea of a "summer vacation", shall we? How about a "winter vacation"?! Bishop, California has so much to offer the off-season traveler: from great outdoor recreation, mild weather, unique shops and restaurants, and interesting attractions. Visit Bishop in the off-season and enjoy an inexpensive vacation, away from the crowds and packed with great experiences! #visitbishop #ThisIsMyRoute #VisitUSAParks ... See MoreSee Less

We really like this concept - why limit yourself to just summer vacations? Bishop is a great destination year-round! Thanks for the shout-out, Visit USA Parks .


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I'm thinking of getting away in Bishop starting Christmas Day (Creekside Inn, of course!) but wondering what restaurants would be open Christmas Day in Bishop.

Having lived there for 10 years, totally agree! So much to do and explore!

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2 days ago

Railroad Express is fun for the whole family! The annual Railroad Express has come and gone - we wait all year for this event and POOF! Over for another year. Tag us in your photos - you'll find us at @visitbishop here, on Instagram, and on Twitter. ... See MoreSee Less

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