California Department of Fish and Wildlife

California Golden Trout (native)

Oncorhynchus mykiss aguabonita

The California golden trout (also known as Volcano Creek golden trout and designated by the Legislature as the State Fish) are in the most precarious position of the three golden trout. They are found in Golden Trout Creek, a tributary to the Kern River, and the South Fork Kern River, which empties into Lake Isabella.

Until recently, we believed these fish were secure. The Department has used California golden trout in Cottonwood Lakes as a source for eggs since 1918. It was believed the offspring of these fish had been spread around the southern Sierra Nevada in more than 300 lakes and 700 miles of stream. Recently, it was determined that these fish are hybridized with rainbow trout and that the offspring are not genetically pure fish. While this may be satisfactory for management purposes, it was devastating from a species preservation point of view.

California golden trout in the South Fork Kern River are threatened by brown trout through predation and competition for food and habitat. They face similar threats from invading rainbow trout, along with the threat of hybridization. These invading non-native trout are moving upstream from the Kennedy Meadows area. Brown trout had reached the very headwaters of the South Fork Kern River in 1969. Years of effort to eliminate these non-native trout, along with the construction of three fish barriers to prevent re-invasion, finally paid off. By the late 1980's the upper basin had been returned to the California golden trout. In 1994 it was discovered that brown trout had once again gained access to the waters upstream of the lowermost Schaeffer barrier.The Schaeffer and Templeton barrier (middle barrier) were constructed of wire baskets filled with rock (gabions) and stacked to form dams.The wire had deteriorated more rapidly than engineers had predicted and both barriers were on the verge of collapse by the mid-1990's. Brown trout were able to make their way over the lowermost barrier. In 1996 the Templeton Barrier was replaced with a rock and concrete dam and to date, non-native trout have not been found upstream of Templeton barrier.

It was always suspected that there might be a hydrological connection around this critical barrier. In 1998, it was confirmed that under high streamflow condition, there is a sheet of water flowing over the meadow on upper Strawberry stringer, an unnamed tributary stream that enters the South Fork Kern River upstream of the barrier. While we have not found rainbow or brown trout that far upstream, the threat certainly is present. Trout genetic samples have been collected and are being analyzed at the University of Montana.

Flood relief money, available through the Inyo National Forest , was used for temporary repair of Shaeffer barrier which will hopefully prevent the further collapse of this structure. This is an important barrier, which until the last few years served to separate the native California golden trout from the non-native brown and rainbow trout downstream. We will be seeking a long term repair of this structure as soon as funding is available.

If non-native fish are able to get upstream of Templeton Barrier, then the only thing standing between them and the headwaters is Ramshaw barrier, which is a modified waterfall and should be secure. Protection of the remaining pure golden trout is crucial.

The California golden trout population in Golden Trout Creek is also threatened by invasion by non-native trout. Golden trout from Cottonwood Lakes were aerially stocked in several of the lakes in the headwaters of Golden Trout Creek before it was known that these fish were hybridized. Recent genetic analysis confirms that these hybrid fish are confined for now to the lakes and streams that flow out of the lakes. Pure California golden trout are present in most of Golden Trout Creek and most tributary streams, including Volcano Creek. However this is a tenuous situation and needs to be corrected immediately.

The Department, along with Inyo National Forest and the Endangered Species Office of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service recently signed a Conservation Strategy Agreement for the Volcano Creek Golden Trout. This agreement details the measures to prevent the need to list this species under the Endangered Species Act and details what actions will be taken to bring this subspecies back from the brink of extinction.