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Fishes of Yosemite National Park (1941, 1948) by Willis A. Evans and Orthello L. Wallis


Shortly after the coming of white men into the Yosemite region, the introduction of exotic game fishes began. This was initiated in an attempt to establish fishes in barren waters and later to supplement the limited fish present in heavily fished areas. As in the case of most introductions of exotics, some readily adapted themselves while others soon passed out of the picture. In general, the native rainbow trout is still the best adapted to most waters.

Eleven species of game fish have been introduced into the waters of Yosemite National Park. These are the rainbow, golden, eastern brook, brown, cutthroat and Dolly Varden trout and the American grayling. Today the grayling and the Dolly Varden trout do not appear to be present in any of the park waters.

In 1877; 14 years before the area, now within the park boundaries, had been set aside as a national reservation, the first recorded plants of rainbow trout were placed in the barren waters of Kibbie, Eleanor, Vernon and Laurel Lakes, which lie in the northwestern section of the park. Messrs. Kibbie, Parsons, and Smith, earlyday settlers, are credited with these first introductions. However, it is believed that some of the early day sheepherders may have removed trout from some streams and carried them to other waters which were accessible to their summer campgrounds even before 1877.

Mr. John L. Murphy planted trout in Tenaya Lake in 1878. In the same year plants of eastern brook trout were made in the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.

The oldest record of trout planting in Yosemite Valley dates back to April 1, 1879, when Mr. M. A. Blade of Union City, Pennsylvania, wrote in the Grand Register of the Cosmopolitan House: “Came in with the Yosemite Fish Commissioners with 20 thousand young trout for the different streams of the valley.”

More rainbows were planted in Lake Eleanor in 1880; then for several years no further plantings were recorded.

In the fall of 1892, Mr. W. H. Shebley of the California Fish Commission started from the old Sisson hatchery in Siskiyou County (now the Mt. Shasta hatchery) with a shipment of blackspotted, eastern brook, and rainbow trout to plant in Yosemite. Earlier attempts to plant hatchery trout had failed because of the long trip and the time required.

On this first successful stocking, the shipment arrived at Raymond by train, from whence it was sent in stages furnished by the Washburn brothers to Wawona. The fish were held overnight in a stream and the next morning transported via an Army ambulance wagon to Mono Meadows, where they were transferred to pack trains for the final stretch of the journey. They were planted in Ostrander and Merced Lakes and in Bridalveil Creek.

After the entire region had been set aside as a national park, a general systematic stocking of the streams and lakes was undertaken. During the early days while the Army had charge of the administration of the park, Col. H. C. Benson took a great interest in fish planting and covered miles of trail stocking lakes and streams which previously had been devoid of fish life. Some of these streams have not been planted since and yet they are still abundantly stocked with reproducing trout.

Although the rainbow was native below the falls, it has been planted into barren back country lakes and streams as well as in the heavily fished Merced River in Yosemite Valley. The rainbow has been planted under the names of Shasta trout, McCloud River rainbow and steelhead.

The eastern brook trout, the beauty of eastern streams, was among the fish earliest brought into the Sierras. First planted in 1892 in Alder and Bridalveil Creeks, Merced and Ostrander Lakes, it now has a definite place in the cold, high country, spring-fed streams where conditions are more suitable for it than any other species.

Cutthroat trout were introduced into a few waters as early as 1892 but this species has never become well established in Yosemite.

Two forms of brown trout, the native European trout, have been introduced into the park. In 1897, the Loch Leven form was first planted and in 1905 the German brown variety. Dr. Carl L. Hubbs, noted ichthyologist, along with other leading students of fishes, has concluded that the differences between the two forms are insufficient to separate them as different species, and that the different stocks have long since lost their identity through interbreeding.

Another variety of rainbow trout, the golden trout, “the world’s most beautiful trout,” was first placed into Adair Lake in 1919. It has become established in several waters.

At some early, unrecorded date, the Dolly Varden3 was probably introduced into Chain Lakes on the southern boundary of the park and in the Merced River. It is possible that it occurred there as in other waters, as a remnant from its wide Ice-Age distribution. In recent years, catches of this species have not been reported. Together with the eastern brook trout, the Dolly Varden is a charr and not a true trout. It has light spotting on a dark background and red or orange spots on its sides. The Dolly Varden differs from the eastern brook trout in the fact that the distinctive mottled or vermiculated back pattern of the eastern brook is lacking.

A plant of American grayling4, a native of the north central portion of the country, was made in a lake high in the back country on June 19, 1930. The grayling belongs to the Family Thymallidae and its chief marks of distinction are the iridescent silvery gray color and the extremely long and high dorsal fin.

Former Park Naturalist C. C. Presnall wrote in 1932, that Peter Topp, Yosemite hatchery foreman, and Park Ranger Sam King investigated the Yosemite plant and reported that the graylings were not only growing at an amazing rate but that they were reproducing.5 Fish were found that had reached a length of 13 1/2 inches and a weight of three-fourths of a pound. Many young graylings were observed. Most of the fish had moved down into the stream below the lake. The success of planting graylings in Yosemite waters was only temporary; none have been reported since 1942. Investigations in 1947 and 1948 by Park Ranger M. B. Evans failed to reveal the existence of graylings in our waters at present.

3. Salvelinus madam spectabilis.

4. Thymallus signifer tricolor.

5. Presnall, C. C. 1932. Montana Grayling prove successful in Yosemite. Yosemite Nature Notes, Vol. 11: No. 9 (September) p. 4.

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