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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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1 day ago

Sunsets around here never get old. 😍
#nofilter #visitbishop #bishopBIGbackyard
Photo by Betsy Johnson
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Sunsets around here never get old. 😍
#nofilter #visitbishop #bishopBIGbackyard
Photo by Betsy Johnson

Comment on Facebook

I've got a lot of nice trout up in Bishop I love it there

Beautiful picture

Love the sky's @ sunsets and sunrise. I have some beautiful pictures of the area. This looks to be below pleasant valley campground on the lower Owens. I fly fished all over the west, This is still my favorite water!!!

What a lovely picture of the beautiful, colorful ,peaceful sky it's so breathtaking. 💘

Classic Western Sky with cattle to add to the picture. Hearing some Western music in the back ground. Just need a windmill. <3

Those Happy Cows love the Bishop sunsets.


And I love Bishop!😊

I love it in the late afternoon when the Sierra's cast their shadow on the White Mountains

HOME ! !

These views never get old. MIss them.

Beautiful Sun 🌞set

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1 day ago

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Comment on Facebook

Snow in the mountains, but dry in the valley, that's why we love Bishop!


God I miss it!


Home sweet home beautiful

Ready to roll there!!!!


Every time I go south on 395 I'm amazed at the beauty of the eastern Sierra Nevada could spend a lifetime in the Mountains There

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1 day ago

Definitely feels and looks like winter around here these days.... this is a shot from yesterday.
📷 by Julie Faber
#visitbishop #bishopBIGbackyard
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Definitely feels and looks like winter around here these days.... this is a shot from yesterday. 
📷 by Julie Faber
#visitbishop #bishopBIGbackyard

Comment on Facebook

Wish you'd post what mountains we're looking at. Lovely photograph!

This is absolutely beautiful! 😊😀

wow, such a beautiful post, need long johns to stay longer then an hour in that snow ?

Awesome picture


... name of the "pyramid peak" please.....

Hello Tom!

Mt. Tom





I need to go fishing on the Owens or PVR, been a while.

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3 days ago

Who loves a little winter fishing???? We've got it year-round here!!Out side enjoying the lower Owens River. Snow storms are rare in the Owens Valley. Snow only lasts a few days at the most. Photo by @leviaguilera_photography ... See MoreSee Less

Who loves a little winter fishing???? Weve got it year-round here!!

Comment on Facebook

Glad to see L A didn’t get all the Owens valley water!

Beautiful background !

Looks cold, but what a great place.

plenty of brown trout,large trout at bridgport res

always did ice fishing onway to bridgport

He should wear one of those wrist bands or forehead bands which shows his temperature so he can regulate. Risky sports have science to make them safer.

Love to go fishing in this stream ! Look at the great snow.😁

Refreshing, stunning, incredibly beautiful and the bestest fishing ever ! I love Bishop !😲👍🇺🇸🦅🇺🇸🎅☃️🎄💥

Oh yea!! He’s gettin them native Browns right there!!

I have fished the Lower Owens for many years, winter is the best because of reduced flows. Great Blue wing olive hatches, and plenty of wild browns. I fished this same run pictured . Love this River and the town of Bishop.


Benton crossing?

That looks so amazing

Jo Nathan we need to go asap!

Do you know where your legs are?

Is that you Josh Beck?

Fred Powers



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