California Department of Fish and Wildlife

About the Heritage and Wild Trout Program

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife’s Wild Trout Program (now the Heritage and Wild Trout Program, or HWTP) was established by the California Fish and Game Commission (Commission) in 1971 to protect and enhance quality trout fisheries sustained by natural reproduction. The Commission adopted a Wild Trout Policy (Policy) that provides for the designation of "aesthetically pleasing and environmentally productive" streams and lakes to be managed exclusively for wild trout.  The Commission directed the Department to study and identify waters that would provide quality wild trout angling for designation as Wild Trout Waters.  Wild trout populations in designated waters are to be managed with appropriate regulations to be "largely unaffected by the angling process."

Designated Wild Trout Waters must meet the following criteria:

  • Open to public angling;
  • Able to support with appropriate angling regulations, wild trout populations of sufficient magnitude to provide satisfactory trout catches in terms of number or size of fish; and
  • Domestic strains of catchable-size trout shall not be planted but suitable hatchery-produced wild or semi-wild strains may be planted in designated waters, but only if necessary to supplement natural reproduction

The Commission recognized the importance of high quality habitat for the maintenance of wild trout populations and the Policy states: "All necessary actions, consistent with state law, shall be taken to prevent adverse impact by land or water development projects affecting designated Wild Trout Waters." The Department is required by Commission policy to prepare and periodically update a management plan for each Wild Trout Water.

Additional HWTP mandates are provided by the Trout and Steelhead Conservation and Management Planning Act of 1979 (SB 192) and its associated updates (specifically SB 384).  These laws (Fish and Game Code Section 1725 et seq.) require the Department to:

  • Conduct a statewide inventory of trout streams and lakes;
  • Determine the most suitable angling regulations for each stream or lake;
  • Conduct ongoing evaluations of angling regulations; and
  • Recommend to the Commission 25 miles of streams and one lake annually for consideration for Wild Trout designation.

The Department’s HWTP conducts statewide resource assessment with emphasis on special management waters. These waters include rivers, streams and lakes designated as “Wild Trout Management Areas” by the Commission. Natural recruitment and aesthetic surroundings are emphasized and natural values are protected.

The Commission expanded its Wild Trout Policy by establishing the Heritage Trout Program in 1998 (now incorporated into the Heritage and Wild Trout Program), such that streams or lakes featuring one or more of the state's native trout, and meeting other specific Wild Trout Water designation criteria, may be designated as Heritage Trout Waters. Heritage Trout Waters are a special subset of Wild Trout Waters to be monitored and managed by the HWTP. In addition, the management of designated Heritage Trout Waters will be guided by management plans that identify actions and policies necessary to protect native trout habitats, and maintain or enhance native trout populations.

The objectives of the Heritage Trout Program are to:

  • Increase public awareness about the beauty, diversity, historical significance, and special values of California's native trout and their habitats;
  • Build public support and increase public involvement in native trout restoration efforts;
  • Promote collaborative efforts with organizations and individuals involved with native trout restoration and management; and
  • Diversify opportunities to fish for, observe, and enjoy native trout in their historic habitats

Some native trout populations in California are state or federally listed as threatened species or state “Species of Special Concern” but they may still provide fishing opportunities and the waters they inhabit may be designated as Heritage Trout Waters by the Commission. Information on the status of these populations is needed to adequately manage and restore these populations, while maintaining angling opportunities where biologically justifiable.