Alpers Trout

by Mike Arakawa

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Lucky California fisherman with an Alpers troutIf you've ever fished the lakes and streams of California's eastern Sierra Nevada mountains, chances are you've probably heard of Alpers trout. These four-pound-plus monster trout are stocked in a number of streams throughout Inyo and Mono Counties, and for many anglers they represent the Holy Grail of the California trout fishing experience. But popular as they are, these fish are also oftentimes misunderstood. Stories abound among misinformed fishermen that Alpers trout are actually a type of salmon; that they are a cross between a salmon and a rainbow trout; or that they are some sort of genetically engineered "man-made" fish. While some of the beliefs and rumors have their basis in actual fact, none are really correct.

Here's the truth: In 1971, Tim Alpers and his father started a trout farm on the family's Owens River Ranch. Their goal was a simple one: to grow farm-raised trout that came as close to wild trout as possible in terms of their appearance, strength, and fighting ability. To achieve this, Alpers took your average, garden-variety rainbow trout and through careful cross-breeding introduced steelhead and kamloops genetic material to provide superior strength and wild temperament. The result? A large, beautiful, aggressive rainbow that fights like anything when hooked.

Raising an Alpers trout to trophy size takes about three years. The fish hatch in trout-friendly 58-degree water, and are then allowed to mature in ponds fed by water from the nearby Owens River. Hatchery staff feed their charges with a specially developed floating food. This conditions the fish to feed on the surface just as wild trout will do. To ensure that the fish develop the desired body conformation, staff take care not to overfeed them during the first two years. A growth spurt in their third year, accompanied by heavier feeding, gets the trout up into the four- to eight-pound weight range considered ideal for stocking in area lakes and streams.

I caught my first Alpers trout in June of 2006 while fishing the South Fork of Bishop Creek. I had spent the morning working a fairly wide, slow-moving stretch of the creek with lots of deep holes, and had caught and released a few pan-sized rainbows along the way. After spending several minutes drifting salmon eggs through one promising-looking pool with no results, I was just about ready to move on to the next spot. I decided to make the proverbial "one more cast" first, and let the bait go a little farther downstream this time than I had before.

Nothing. A bit disappointed, I began retrieving my bait. Suddenly feeling a tap on my line, I set the hook hard, and immediately thought I had snagged a rock or a fallen tree...until my rod tip began to twitch violently. I spent the next five minutes locked in the fight of a lifetime with what turned out to be a beautiful four-pound Alpers. Every time I thought he was starting to tire, the fish would take line again, and I don't know how many times I held my breath as I struggled to keep him out of the bushes along either bank of the creek. By the time I finally got him into the net I felt like I had been running a race, and what started out as a pretty good morning of fishing had turned into a truly memorable one.

Tim Alpers sold the Owens River Ranch in late 2007, but he has moved the fish hatchery operation to a new location nearby. He still raises his trophy trout and stocks them in the waters of the eastern Sierras, ensuring that anglers can continue to enjoy catching these hard-fighting monsters for many years to come.


Mike Arakawa is the managing editor of StreamFisherman.net.

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