It’s 64 degrees outside as Jason Welsh eases his white International truck down the boat launch ramp at Pinecrest Lake.

The truck’s aluminum tank is brimming with 2,500 pounds of rainbow trout.

The already busy launch area has swelled with onlookers as Welsh, a technician with the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, attaches a long metal pipe to the truck.

With the turn of a small lever, hundreds of fish tumble out. Within five minutes the tank is empty and the fish slowly move out past the dock.

Friday’s plant was the last of the big fish — some measured 15 inches long — that came from an older broodstock grown in a hatchery in the San Joaquin Valley. Typically, the fish released every two weeks or so at Pinecrest are about a half pound, said Welsh.

The sheer size of the fish released Friday brought cheers and awe from onlookers.

Once the truck pulled away, people scrambled knee deep into the water to get a closer look and touch the fish that remained in the shallows.

Crystal Gallegos and her 11-year-old daughter Savanna had arrived early after the bait shop clerk told them fish were on the way.

Gallegos, who is from Livermore, was on her family’s annual tent-camping trip to the lake. They hadn’t had much luck with their bait of crickets, powerbait and garlic spray, but seeing all the fish tumble into the lake was encouraging.

About half of Friday’s fish plant was between 3 and 5 pounds, said Welsh. They came from a hatchery in the San Joaquin Valley that was having water quality issues and needed to move their broodstock to the Moccasin Creek Hatchery.

The Moccasin Creek Hatchery opened in 1954. Back then it was a series of 24 dirt ponds located on land leased from the City of San Francisco. It gets its water from the Moccasin Creek Powerhouse Reservoir, which is part of the Hetch Hetchy water system.

The sole purpose of the fish raised there is for fishing.

“All these fish are meant to be caught,” said Justin Kroeze, a manager at the Moccasin hatchery. “Our goal is to meet the fishing demand.”

Funding for raising and releasing the hatchery fish comes from fishing license fees, said Kroeze. The fish serve as a “tangible product” of those license fees, he said.

When it comes to deciding which lakes get fish, that depends on how much use a lake gets. Pinecrest is a heavily fished lake, Welsh said. And so every two weeks or so fish are trucked in and released.

Business was humming at Rich and Sal’s sport shop, just up the road from the lake. KerryAnn Buck was busy working the cash register, issuing fishing licenses and offering advice for what bait is working best. Chartreuse and rainbow PowerBait were good bets this day. It’s been a really good summer, Buck said.

Especially for anglers like 76-year-old Bob Lackey of Bumblebee. Lackey and his wife Jeanne come to the lake twice a week. This summer they haven’t left empty handed yet. Bob Lackey maneuvers the couple’s cream and brown 15-foot pontoon boat around the lake and points out spots he thinks Jeanne Lackey might have some luck. Today’s haul included a 3-and-a-half pound rainbow trout. It will likely end up as a batch of the couple’s homemade tuna.

Welsh, with the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said today’s release would be nibbling on fishermen’s lines within a half hour of their release. The fish aren’t fed for a few days leading up to their transport. And once they acclimate to the 10-degree or so increase in water temperature, they’re back to their wild selves.

“They’re tougher than you think they are,” said Welsh.

Contact Melissa Blanton at mblanton@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4542

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