Project Kokanee doing big things for California anglers

By: J.D. Richey Journal Outdoors Columnist
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Twenty million fish planted. Think about that for a moment: Twenty million! That’s really all you need to know about the positive impact that the California Inland Fisheries Foundation Inc. has had on the state’s fisheries. In the nearly 20 years since its formation (as Project Kokanee), this non-profit fishery enhancement organization has compiled a laundry list of accomplishments that is nothing short of amazing. Here are some highlights: • Planted an average of 1 million kokanee salmon in California lakes a year since 1992. • In 2011 alone, released 1,035,939 kokes in 21 lakes in the state But kokanee salmon are just part of the story. Over the years, the scope of Project Kokanee’s work branched out to help improve king salmon and rainbow trout fishing as well and, eventually, the organization became California Inland Fisheries Foundation. According to CIFFI President Gary Erck, current programs include Project King Salmon, Project Rainbow Trout and Project Eagle Lake Trout. “Project Rainbow Trout is designed to enhance planted rainbow trout survival in the lakes by rearing them in net pens,” Erk says. “The trout that aren’t caught after being planted don’t have very good survival rates. They typically last no more than a month or so because they don’t know how to hunt for their food. We take DFG planter trout, typically 2 to the pound, and give them a change to acclimate to their new surroundings. Then, we release them when they are more than a pound each and they have a much better shot at making it. We have pens at Lake Berryessa, Collins Lake and Lake Almanor — and have also operated them in the past at Trinity and Lewiston lakes as well. Depending on the situation, we pay for the pens and/or the food.” With Project Eagle Lake Rainbow Trout, CIFFI has joined forces with the community at Eagle Lake to host fundraiser events. The money then goes to buy 3,000 to 5,000 pounds of 2- to 3-pound bonus trout from the DFG for stocking Eagle Lake. Since 2008, the Project King Salmon arm of CIFFI has planted over 2 million Chinook for anglers to enjoy in close to a dozen reservoirs. But it’s not just the rainbow and salmon anglers who benefit here. Anglers who chase brown trout, bass, crappie and catfish all have CIFFI to thank as well. The prolific stockings over the years have also provided forage for these other species. Funding CIFFI has over 1,000 paying members and that membership, combined with fundraising dinners and its extremely popular derbies are what fund all the projects. And, as Erck says, there are some generous contributions from corporate sponsors such as PG&E, Johnson Outdoors, Davey Tree and American Truck & Trailer Body to help fill in the gaps. The entire organization is volunteer — not a single person draws a paycheck within CIFFI. Humble Beginnings Fish Sniffer Publisher Hal Bonslett and retired DFG employeed Bob Rodstrum came up with the original concept of creating Project Kokanee in 1992 when the DFG was cutting back on plants due to budgetary woes. The idea was solid: While it took around $2 to raise a hatchery rainbow to plantable size, it took only 3 cents to get a kokanee to releaseable age. Bonslett called tackle manufacturer Sep Hendrickson with the concept and they each put $500 into the venture to get it rolling. “I didn’t have the money at that moment but I did it anyway,” says Hendrickson, now the outfit’s Executive Director. “We had our first fundraiser brunch that year and 67 people showed up...and we were off and running. Most people who started with it, stayed with it — it’s just such a warm and fuzzy. We plant fish...that’s what we do and it’s a really good feeling.” Indeed, it is through the long-time efforts of folks like Hendrickson and his wife Marilyn, Rod Browning, Sunny Lampe, Rick Soto, Chuck Dunham, Don Nevis, Gary Erck and so many more that CIFFI has grown to the impressive organization that it is. 20th Anniversary Party? In 2012, it will be 20 years since the little upstart Project Kokanee showed up on the scene. Asked about plans for a big celebratory bash, Erck says he really hasn’t though much about it. “Honestly, we’ve just been concentrating on what we do best and that is put fish in the water,” he says. About a million a year, to be exact. To read more or join, log onto J.D. Richey is a 1986 Placer High graduate whose outdoors pieces have been published nationally. Find him online at