Whitlock-Vibert Trout Egg Project

A light, spring snow was beginning to fall as Grand Valley Anglers members and several officers from Colorado Parks and Wildlife parked their respective trucks in the Kannah Creek trailhead parking lot. The sun played across the trees and falling flakes as a chilly wind swept down from the top of the Grand Mesa. In the bed of one truck lay shovels, garden hoes, rakes, and five-gallon buckets, ready to be put to use. Nestled carefully in the back seat was another bucket — a bucket full of treasure. In the bucket, in near-freezing water, lay three thousand eyed rainbow trout eggs, waiting patiently.


The crew loaded in to the truck and drove slowly, legs dangling from the tailgate, across the cattle guard and up a dirt trail to the diversion dam, making jokes and zipping jackets up a little higher to keep the wind off their necks. As the truck came to a stop, bodies piled out and tools and buckets were scooped up. Under the watchful eyes of tom turkeys roosting in the trees, off the trail they went, one after another, ducking under pinyon branches, avoiding prickly pears, and pushing back whippy willow sprigs as they walked. Several hundred yards later, they dropped their loads and split up in to small teams.


Several teams grabbed shovels and buckets, attacking rocky beds to collect gravel — just the right size, of course. Others scouted the stream bed, looking for just the right spots — not too shallow, not too deep — flat and well-aerated. Others began sorting the eggs, skimming off the dead or unfertilized ones, dividing them up in to batches, and placing them in Whitlock-Vibert boxes. These specially-designed boxes keep the eggs safe in an upper chamber until the fry hatch then drop through slots in to a lower chamber where they grow and eat in safety until their egg sacs are absorbed and they can swim out of bigger slots in to the stream, large enough to sustain themselves the wild.


The volunteers dug in to the stream bed and carefully placed the boxes, gently covering them with gravel. The water was a numbing 36 degrees, and wet hands were often thrust, shivering,  in to wader pockets after a brief dip. Snow fell on their backs as they worked, each of them grateful it wasn’t raindrops. Even with the spring chill, layers were shed as shovels full of rock and silt rose from the stream and buckets of gravel were collected. After a few hours of labor, the team had placed six boxes, each containing approximately 500 rainbow trout eggs, into the stream bed. For the time being, their work was done. There was nothing to mark their efforts but six flat piles of gravel, six orange tape tags, and six orange flags to warn curious hikers and anglers away . . ..


In three or four weeks we will go back to check on the boxes. The fish living in them should have hatched, metabolized their yolks, and swum out of the boxes to populate the stream. These fish will have hatched in Kannah Creek, and will spawn there in the future. These Whitlock-Vibert boxes have an incredibly high survival rate for trout fry, which is why this trip up to Kannah Creek is just the beginning.


Next, our team of volunteers will travel to Elk Creek to take eggs and sperm from rainbow trout there, mixing them to make “green eggs,” which will be placed in boxes as well. Should that endeavor prove successful, our GVA Conservation Committee will attempt something that has never been done before: to plant fertilized “green eggs” from the extremely rare green-lineage Colorado Cutthroat trout in creeks on the Western Slope. This exciting prospect could result in the reintroduction of the lineage to many of its original home waters. To put it plainly, we’re hoping to put wild-born, very rare, native fish back in the streams they once inhabited. If that’s not an overwhelmingly appealing prospect, I don’t know what is.


If you as a member of Grand Valley Anglers would like to be involved with these future box-placement projects, including the trout egg and sperm collection trip coming up at the end of April, please get in touch with our Conservation Coordinator, Tyler Morris at tysureshot51@gmail.comThese projects are very physically demanding, but should you choose to volunteer, I guarantee they are worth the effort.


I would like to thank all our volunteers from GVA who helped on this first step in the project: Blake Fanning, Tyler Morris, Kari Sewell, Phil Trimm, and Jordan Shelley, and our teammates from CPW, Ben and Braxton.