Backcountry Natives

Nearly five years ago, two Colorado Parks and Wildlife volunteers stocked a pair of lakes deep within the Indian Peaks Wilderness. The lakes were stocked with the aid of a mule carrying two ice chests. Each chest contained a bag of water holding 500 greenback cutthroat fingerlings. The fingerlings were kept alive by two air tanks pumping oxygen into the water. The volunteers explained that the mule, fitted with the ice chests and air tanks, looked like a “rocket mule” that was being blasted up the mountain.  Each year those same volunteers return to check the progress of the stocked fingerlings.

The 8-mile hike to the lakes yields fantastic scenery.

At an elevation of nearly 13,000 feet,  the lakes remain ice-capped most of the year.  The fish have a long winter and short summer, and the window of opportunity to feed on active, aquatic insects is short.

Over the course of five years, the fingerlings in the first lake have grown to 6 to 8 inches in length. 

Accessing the second lake requires traversing a saddle and steep snow field.

The fish are larger in the second lake, averaging 12 inches in length.

Although these neighboring lakes were stocked at the same time with identical-size fish, it remains a mystery as to why one lake grows bigger fish than the other.

Nevertheless, it’s understandable why these volunteers return every year to this beautiful location to check on these extraordinary fish.

Click play to see a short clip from the trip

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