Fish Fly the Skies in Helicopter Stocking Program in Wyoming

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Fish Fly the Skies in Helicopter Stocking Program in WyomingCASPER- Normally the only wildlife flying the friendly skies are on the tail of a Frontier airplane. But Aug. 3-6, thousands of fish from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department’s fish hatcheries were planted in Wyoming waters through helicopter stocking efforts.

When lakes or streams are not accessible by road, the Game and Fish uses a privately contracted helicopter to plant fish in high alpine areas. Fish were transported first from by truck to a staging site, then transferred to the helicopter for planting. Specially designed tanks allow for the stocking of several lakes in one trip. The helicopter pilot controls the release of the fish with an electronic switch. Although fish are released approximately 20 feet from the water’s surface, they land safely in the waiting pools below.

“Flying fish in a helicopter sounds unusual, but it’s something the Game and Fish has been doing for years,” explains Jim Barner, assistant fish culture supervisor for the Game and Fish. “We have some lakes and streams that are popular with anglers, but the only way to get to them is by hiking in on foot. Stocking these remote ponds using traditional methods would require lots of manpower and would take several weeks or more, with significant losses of fish along the way. Once the helicopter is loaded, we can stock about up to eight lakes in about 30 minutes, then reload the helicopter for additional stocking.”

Using a helicopter is a safer, more efficient way for the department to get fish to these hard-to-reach waters.

“We alternate the sites we stock by helicopter each year,” says Barner. “This year we planted fish near Dubois, Buffalo and Laramie. Next year, we’ll use helicopters to stock other areas and water bodies.”

The stocked fish were several different species of trout, including the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, generally about 2 ½ – 5 inches long, or what are known as fingerlings. To make sure the fish are healthy when they reach the water, fish culture personnel closely monitor the oxygen level and water temperature of the transportation tanks. The temperature of the transportation tanks are matched as closely as possible with the temperature of the lake or stream where the fish will be planted. This helps reduce the thermal shock to the fish. Fish are also taken off feed a day or two before planting to reduce their demand for oxygen. Very few fish die during planting operations.

“Aerial stocking is obviously the most glamorous, but we also stock by boat, truck and even horseback,” says Barner. “Many anglers prefer fishing the hard-to-reach areas because of the solitary experience, and in some places you can combine excellent fishing with hiking, backpacking and camping.”

Fisheries biologists determine the species, volume and location of they would like stocked each year and submit their requests to the fish culture personnel. Wyoming’s 10 fish hatcheries and rearing stations then work together to raise the types and number of fish to be stocked to meet angler needs. Raising and stocking fish has played an important role in Wyoming’s fisheries management, especially in areas with high fishing pressure or where habitat limits sufficient natural reproduction to meet angler demand. The Game and Fish raises and stocks more than 311,000 pounds of fish each year for Wyoming anglers.

“A lot of thought and effort goes into providing quality fisheries in Wyoming,” says Barner. “Several years of work by biologists and fish culturists may have gone into that trophy trout on your line. Quality habitat, a healthy hatchery system and knowledgeable personnel, combined with our beautiful landscapes make Wyoming one of the premier fishing destinations in the country.”

For more information on fishing locations, department’s hatcheries or fish management efforts, visit the Game and Fish Web site at