View Full Version : Pilot Creek Cutts

11-30-2005, 02:01 PM
NDOW planted a bunch of Pilot Creek Cutts into the Truckee River and Sparks Marina. Has anyone caught one of these fish yet and if so do you have any pics? These cutthroats are supposedly from the original Lake Tahoe/Pyramid strain and are more capable of spawning in the river. Hopefully these fish will take and start to reproduce naturally in the Truckee. Could make for some good fishing in a couple of years. I might get a chance to hit up the Truckee Saturday afternoon so maybe I'll be able to post back on these fish.


11-30-2005, 03:13 PM
They are called Pilot Peak Cutthroat and they are the original Pyramid strain that survived in a creek in Western Utah. *They must have been planted there back before records were kept. They have thrown a bunch in the Truckee since early October. I have only seen the hatchery brood stock, but they look somewhat different from the fish that are currently in Pyramid. The ones that I've seen were lighter in color and more elongate than the ones we are used to seeing. Fish in a natural environment usually are more colorful. Here is a picture of Pilot Peak cutts that was taken in Utah:


I believe that the reason they are being stocked is to see how they will survive in the Truckee under modern conditions. It is highly unlikely that they will establish significant natural reproduction until NDOW stops planting rainbows.

11-30-2005, 03:48 PM
Doc are there reproducing bows in the Truckee? I would think so. And yeah it will be hard to get a pure strain of these cutts in there if the bows are reproducing. However this could make for a good strain of cut-bows.

I was reading an article on these fish and there is no hard evidence that these are the original strain. The only way to know for sure if this is part of the original strain is to sample the 41 lbs cutthroat from the Museum in Carson City. So far they will not let them take a sample from that fish. Until then it is only speculation.

And to my knowledge, which is limited, they have not been planted in Pyramid. But if they plant them into the Truckee then eventually they could make it to Pyramid right?

Did NDOW not post those earlier plants until recently? For some reason this is the first I have seen of them being planted. And now like Doc said back to October.

I think a Saturday afternoon trip might be in order now to catch one of these fish. I have a few more pics left on my camera to take before I get it developed. So if things do work out I will post as soon as I can get them scanned.


11-30-2005, 04:03 PM
I'm surprised if the planters are of catchable size. I would have thought both by numbers and survival, that they would be closer to fingerlings.

In the Colorado River, AZ, there is a movement by the fish and game dept. to eradicate Rainbows from the river because they were not native and have pushed out Cutt's and dessimated some river chub.

11-30-2005, 04:33 PM
The experiments comparing Pilot Peak cutt DNA with DNA extracted from museum specimens of the original Pyramid fish have now been completed by Mary Peacock's lab. The results are completely consistent with a Pyramid origin for the Pilot Peak fish. The DNA markers tested showed that the Pilot Peak fish had a higher genetic similarity with the museum specimens than with any existing strain of cutthroat. The museum specimens had more genetic variation than the Pilot Peak fish, which would be expected since the Utah derived strain has undergone genetic bottlenecks where the entire surviving population was derived from just a few individuals. This of course raises the question as to whether the Pilot Peak fish still have the genetic potential to grow to 40+ pounds. The only way to find out is to plant them and see what happens.

There is some natural reproduction of rainbows in the Truckee, but not a lot is known about it. Since all of the planted fish are at least 7", any fish that are found to be smaller than that must be "wild". Small fish are found in the Truckee intermittently, suggesting that natural reproduction is "episodic". That is, it occurs during good water years but not every year. There are ongoing studies to try to learn where the rainbows spawn in the river since cutthroat trout would be expected to use the same areas for spawning (gravel, low gradient, good oxygenation) and the same areas for rearing (lower flow backwaters). These studies include both looking for young of the year fish and radio tagging adults.

Since both species occupy the same niche and readily interbreed, there is no room for both species in the river. In addition, my own studies have found that cutthroat trout, but not rainbow trout, have a hierarchal feeding structure. They automatically defer to the largest fish when in a confined area and only that fish will actively feed. This is a nice dispersal mechanisms for a species that evolved in a desert environment where drought causes populations to periodically decline dramatically. It allows for better survival of larger reproductive individuals at the expense of smaller fish when times get tough. Then it promotes rapid dispersal of smaller fish during times of more water. Cutthroat establish and maintain this hierarchy through complex social interactions that often involve flashing the orange "cut throat" at each other. The smaller fish just swim away when they are flashed by a larger fish. Rainbows don't do this and do not respond to the signals. So when cutts and rainbows are confined together, the dominate cutthroats spend most of their time flashing and biting the rainbows. They do this to the point where the cutts actually stop feeding. The bows pretty much just ignore the cutts since they don't understand the language. So that's why cutts have such a hard time competing with other species of trout. It's not that they aren't competitive. They are in fact more aggressive than just about any other species of trout. It's just that their social structure can't tolerate the presence of non-native trout that don't respond to cutthroat body language.

So there you have it. Rainbows or cutthroat in the Truckee. You can't have both. The presence of browns may be less of a problem since cutts and browns seem to co-exist in Independence Lake fairly well. There are studies being conducted by UC Davis researchers in Sagehen Creek that is looking at the interactions of cutts, rainbows, and browns.

The Tribe has not been very happy about the introduction of Pilot Peak cutts in the Truckee in the past because they could drop down into the lake and mix with the present fishery. Especially once the barriers are removed from the river as part of the restoration effort. The Tribe is concerned about diseases getting introduced that might affect the present fish. But they seem to be coming around to the idea that Pilot Peaks could be a good thing. Especially if they can grow to 40+ lb.

11-30-2005, 04:50 PM
Hi Doc, do you know what strain they are using in Fallen Leaf? Should they be using Pilot Peaks? A couple weeks ago we picked up a few that were looking really healthy. Before that, all I had caught in the Leaf looked like they could use a sandwich.

11-30-2005, 04:51 PM
Thanks as always Doc. I havn't seen anything relating to Mary's acceptance to get the DNA from the Museum. I would be interested in reading that article if you have a link.

I would think there has to be some way that bows and cutts can both thrive in the Truckee. Maybe if they set up a special spawing ground for the Pilots where they can extract the pures from the nons and breed only the pures there then release them back into the river once they have attained a certain size. This would enable the bows to continue their spawning tactics and also allow for the Pilots to spawn on their own which could create a small population of natural reproducing pilots along with some pilot-bows mixed in.

What is going to happen to Pyramid when all the diversions are taken out and bows and browns can now swim into Pyramid? This could be good or really bad for the fish in Pyramid. What is the tribe saying about this possibility?

11-30-2005, 04:54 PM
Hey SS, hows the Leaf been fishing lately? My buddy caught a nice 6 lbs brown hen with eggs dripping out a couple of weeks ago at the inlet.

I did read that the cutthroats that are being planted in Fallen Leaf are now all Pilot Peaks. Not sure when exactly that started because last year or the year before we were catching tons of LCTs that were tagged. Doc would probably know better since that guy knows everything that goes on in this area.

11-30-2005, 05:16 PM
They are now planting both Pyramid and Pilot Peak strains is Fallen Leaf in order to see which does best.

There are very little spawning and rearing habitat areas in the present day Truckee. They are trying to locate those areas by studying the rainbows. In the old days the cutts from Pyramid would swim all the way up to Tahoe and spawn in some of the creeks along with the Tahoe population. They also likely used the Little Truckee, which has nice low gradient gravel areas that are now submerged beneath the reservoirs. Proser Creek below the dam is suspected to be a present day spawning area. But the best areas in Proser are also now flooded. So there just isn't enough room for both species. Plus, there is no known instance of co-existence of rainbows with any subspecies of interior cutthroat. Where ever rainbows have been introduced, cutthroat have gone extinct in a remarkably short period of time. You can't even find cuttbows in most of those populations anymore.

My own suggestion has been to construct artificial spawning channels similar to what the Canadians use to enhance wild salmon production. This would mitigate for the habitat lose, but still wouldn't allow for the co-existence or rainbows and cutts. Salmonids in general and planted fish in particular tend to exploit all possible spawning habitats. So there would always be mixing. On the other hand, if significant spawning migrations from Pyramid could be established, the shear numbers of cutts would minimize genetic introgression by rainbows. If something resembling the intact original system could be recovered, the cutts would have a huge advantage because of their numbers. Some natural reproduction would also improve the genetic diversity of the fish in the lake, since a larger number of individuals would be contributing to the gene pool of each generation.

Browns and rainbows cannot survive in Pyramid because of the alkalinity. One rainbow was caught in the lake during the high water years right after the flood. This was big news at the time. But none have been caught since then and the lower Truckee is loaded with rainbows and browns. Only the cutts can exploit the resources of the lake. So you can see how connecting the river with the lake will be necessary if the recovery effort is going to work.

11-30-2005, 07:42 PM
Fishdude, I am hearing the same thing. I heard quick trolled plugs as usual. Hadnt been lately cause silver and caples are (were) still open. Awww man, I think caples just closed for the season. The winter season has started in earnest now, I wonder how Ice House is doing?

Doc, are the man-made spawning areas doable? What kind of price on enough area to materially support a permanent population? Sounds like a great NFWF grant to spend a lot of time on the river. I get that the bows are no problem if you get the influx of fish from Pyramid, but Derby isnt going anywhere is it?

11-30-2005, 08:49 PM
Doc, check your private messages.

11-30-2005, 10:42 PM
My days as an active researcher ended this past July. All I do now it encourage other people and get grants to support research infrastructure. I show up at the Truckee River Recovery Team meetings and make suggestions more as a fisherman than as a scientist these days. USF&W said that they were interested in artificial spawning channels but they were not familiar with them. Shows how provincial these folks can be. I've seen channels for enhancing sockeye salmon on the Skeena River system in BC and I was really impressed. I always thought that they must take up a huge area. But they produce millions of fry from only a few acres of land. This is not a hatchery operation. The salmon dig their own redds and the fry emerge and forage for themselves in the river. It might be possible to construct similar artificial spawning areas on the Truckee as part or the restoration effort. But it is not easy to acquire river front land in the areas with the best potential. The Recovery Plan is a 20 year long process. It uses an Adaptive Management approach, which involves trying different things, assessing the outcome, and revising the plan accordingly. So nobody knows how things will actually be done.

As part of the plan, an effective fishway has been constructed at Derby Dam that will allow fish passage even under low water conditions. There are plans to eventually remove all of the obstructions to fish movement between Pyramid and Fanny Bridge at Tahoe and to improve habitat in the lower river by restoring the original river meanders that were destroyed by channelization in the 1960's.

12-01-2005, 08:29 AM
Sorry to take this thread back a step, but I thought the NDOW said they were going to start stocking triploid rainbows in the Truckee to minimize crossbreeding with the cutthroat. It would not address the issue with the present rainbow population, but over time it should. Did they change their mind?

12-01-2005, 10:49 AM
They have been stocking triploids (which are sterile). But that doesn't mean that they will not continue to stock whatever fertile strains they can get their hands on. I should be able to find out about their plans (for now) and I'll post what I learn. Triploids are expensive and I was under the impression that they were stocked on a test basis. They are supposed to grow faster and larger than normal rainbows.

12-01-2005, 11:00 AM
Based on Doc's post earlier in the thread, it didn't sound like Rainbow reproduction was the primary factor in Cutt's & Bow's co-existing. In the Colorado reference I made, the food, I believe, was a bigger factor.

12-01-2005, 11:32 AM
That is also what I gained. That the cutts will spend all there time biting the rainbows and trying to show dominance. While the rainbows don't respond. From my understanding of what Doc said is if there is a hole with say 6 fish, 3 cutts and 3 bows, the biggest being a 5lbs cutt. The 5 lbs cutt will flash his markings and show dominance. The 2 other cutts will recognize this and let the big man feed. The 3 rainbows will not recognize this sign and even if they are 12 inchers they will not back down. Thus the big man spending all his time trying to fend off his territory instead of eating.

I now understand why the two can't really co-exist. However there are waters that are able to hold a population of both, i.e. Indian Creek Reservoir. Do we know why?


12-01-2005, 03:19 PM
Well, my experience so far on the Truckee does not necessarily fit with the cutthroat taking second place to the rainbow in the feeding slots. That may be the case under the controlled situation in the lab, but my experience so far, has not been the same. One example; last year I flyfished the artificials only section of the Truckee. In one hole, I caught 4 cutthroat from the same spot and then 2 rainbow from exactly the same spot, all within 30 minutes. Incidently, I also caught one brown, but it was not from the same spot in that hole. I have had other days where the results were similar-the cutthroat seemed to be the more agressive species and the rainbow the secondary feeders. Go figure! Fish just seem to have a mind of their own and do not always do what is expected (that is why I enjoy fishing!) based upon scientific evidence. I hope this continues to hold true and possibly, the Truckee of the future will hold all 3 species of trout for our enjoyment.

12-01-2005, 03:48 PM
I had an interesting conversation with a friend at NDOW and I can answer some of questions that have been brought up.

First, as part of a 5 year agreement with the Tribe, NDOW has only been stocking triploid rainbows in the Truckee for the past several years. While these fish are not 100% sterile, the risk of hybridization with cutthroat is substantially reduced. Since California has ceased stocking rainbows, only holdover rainbows and wild fish should still be able to reproduce.

California did not plant cutthroat in the Truckee this year except for the Upper Truckee above Tahoe. They had contracted with the USF&W hatchery in Garnerville (which now only produces Pilot Peak strain cutthroat)for 50,000 fish this year. But because of the presence of a low level of BKD in the fish, they were refused. These are the Pilot Peak fish that are now being stocked on the Nevada side by NDOW. BKD is already in the river, but California has a lot of rules you know. I guess they couldn't get the warning label to stick. (Warning: Substances contained in these fish are known in California to cause BKD. ;))

The new fishway around Derby Dam has never been opened because of a concern by the Tribe that Cui-ui might swim up the Truckee Canal instead of up river. So the opening of the fishway is delayed until fish screens can be installed. The screens will cost more than the fishway.

I may have been mistaken about the strains of cutthroat that are being stocked in Fallen Leaf.

With the exception of Coastal Cutthroat, which have evolved to co-exist with rainbows, there are no known examples of co-habitation of a body of water by naturalized populations of cutthroat and rainbows. Where ever you are catching both species together, at least 1 has been planted.