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Secretary of the Interior Bruce Babbitt visited Pyramid Lake, Nevada on April 18 and caught a native Lahontan cutthroat trout of about 25 inches and five pounds. The trip was the first leg of his “Bring Back the Natives” tour of the West to promote the cause of native trout restoration.
As we reported in Part II of our “Native Trout Challenge” series (see October 1997 issue, pages 4-5), Pyramid Lake Lahontans are the giant of American trouts, once caught by Paiute Indians, early commercial netters and celebrities like Clark Gable in sizes from 20 to 60 pounds. The original Pyramid Lake population was made extinct by the Bureau of Reclamation’s Derby Dam on the Truckee River, the lake’s main source, which blocked their spawning runs.
The purpose of Babbitt’s tour is to focus attention on the need to remedy past mistakes by federal land management agencies and to promote a new philosophy of cooperative partnerships for repairing natural systems. In particular, he reached out to the local Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, owners of the prime Lahontan fishery and a culture traditionally based on fishing. The tribe went through a decade of lawsuits to regain control of this world-famous trophy fishery from mistrusted state and federal agencies, and set out on a highly successful effort to restore it on their own.
The events that drew Babbitt to Reno were the tribe’s spring spawn-taking program. He watched as brilliantly colored two to 10-pound fish were captured and propagated to restock the lake. He also personally helped volunteers from Trout Unlimited install two in-stream egg incubators designed to restore natural spawning in the Truckee.
Babbitt, formerly governor and senator from Arizona and a lean and fit 60, is an enthusiastic fisherman himself who waxes poetic about native trout and biodiversity of both wildlife and lifestyles. In a gesture of appreciation and respect, he presented his Lahontan to tribal chairman Mervin Wright, Jr. In return, he received a hand-beaded leather fish made by a tribal artist.
In closing remarks, Babbitt said “I hope that in our lifetimes, we will once again see 20 to 30-pound fish make their original spawning runs all the way to Lake Tahoe and back.” A reporter asked if this was realistic, since it likely would require removal of his own agency’s dam and threaten vested-interest irrigators. “We first have to dream and set goals,” he replied, “to work together for the future.”