State Game and Fish working to keep fish safe from wildfires

Arizona's wildfires have threatened people, structures and wildlife in 2017, with thousands of acres burned across the state already.

The fires can have a potentially devastating impact on the state's fish hatcheries, and the worst case scenario could deal a serious blow to fishermen around the Grand Canyon State.

"We're probably the only game and fish truck that everyone's excited to see," said Bryce Sisson, the manager of Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery.

It's a regular trout restocking at Christopher Creek in Payson. Sisson, along with other Game and Fish workers, stock bodies of water around the state so licensed anglers have fish to catch.

Their activity, however, has come under fire recently, in the literal sense.

June's Highline Fire burned more than 7,000 acres, and it got close to the hatchery. Due to the fire, thousands of fish had to be brought to Woods Canyon Lake. Had the fire reach the hatchery, it could have been a disaster.

"If there was damage to the water pipelines, something like that in the spring, we'd probably lose all the fish in the hatchery," said Sisson. "There was a lot of concern that the fire may spread into the hatchery or around it, potentially damaging the water shed or some of the water conveyance, and the decision was made to stock out as many fish as we could."

Sisson described the worst case scenario.

"We could be looking at loss of fish, that year's stockings," said Sisson. "We usually have two year's worth of fish at any point at time, so anglers wouldn't have fish for two years"

In order to prevent the two-year loss, Game and Fish upped the stocking of trout at places like Woods Canyon Lake.

"We normally put between 2,500 and 3,000 fish a week into Woods Canyon and Willow Springs," said Sisson. "Each one of those lakes got 11,000 to 12,000 fish that week."

That was just part of the total.

"All told, I think we got rid of 450,000 fish," said Sisson. "A lot of those were fingerling fish spread to other hatcheries, but we did stock out 50,000 or 60,000 catchable trout, and a lot of them went in to the local waters in the Rim."

This isn't a yearly occurrence. The last time Game and Fish had to do an operation like this was in 2014.

"The last one was Sterling Springs Hatchery in Oak Creek Canyon, when the Slide Fire went through," said Sisson.

It wasn't even the actual fire threatening the fish that time, but the threat of more water.

"There wasn't so much risk that the fire would damage the hatchery, it was more flood risk because the fire was at the beginning of monsoon season," said Sisson.

Anglers appreciated the state's effort at Woods Canyon Lake around the 4th of July holiday. There were plenty of trout, but they just weren't biting for everyone.

"We haven't caught any today," said Andres Miranda. "We've been here since Monday. No trout on our lines, but we saw people with quite a few."

"What I've seen, our neighbor pulled in a nice Trout," said John Durica. "People can do it. We're just not that good yet."

As the old saying goes, a bad day of fishing is better than a good day of work.

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