Hickman learned from the Nevada and Utah Departments of Fish and Game that no Lahontans were stocked in either state between 1930 and 1949. Then, after nearly two months of interviewing in the Pilot Peak area, he met a retired game warden who told him that in the late '40s he had stocked rainbow trout in many local streams, but that he had never put them in the creek Hickman dubbed Donner because it already had trout.
Hickman deduced that the trout in the creek had almost certainly originated in Pyramid Lake. They had been stocked before 1930, when Pyramid was the only possible source. The problem now was what to do with them.
To duplicate the original Pyramid Lake fishery, he knew, would be impossible. The Truckee is no longer suitable for spawning; in fact, in 1975, the Paiutes won an $8 million settlement from the government to compensate them for their lost source of income. Lahontan cutthroat trout from California's Summit Lake were stocked in the lake, and a channel was built to get them around the delta at spawning time and into an egg-taking facility upstream. Since then the eggs have been hatched and the finger-ling trout released in the lake. But of course they are not the original Pyramid Lake strain.
Now the Paiutes have brought another suit, this time to get more water released over Derby Dam. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hopes to partially restore the spawning habitat below the dam, and to get a run of the Summit Lake fish each year. The Service has also expressed interest in eventually utilizing Donner Creek stock, but those would almost certainly hybridize with the Summit Lake fish and with the Truckee's rainbow trout, and they would no longer be what they once had been.
But other possibilities exist. This spring, when the trout in Donner Creek are spawning, a Fish and Wildlife biologist will gather eggs, have them fertilized and take them to the national fish hatchery at Hotchkiss, Colo. A breeding stock will be developed, and fingerling trout will be placed in large reservoirs full of bait fish. Natural reproduction will not be likely in those reservoirs because the proper conditions don't exist there, but spawning could occur in reservoirs yet to be built. Before the dams to form them are constructed, the feeder streams, which would provide suitable spawning habitat, will be emptied of existing trout, to avoid hybridization, and ultimately descendants of Donner Creek fish will be introduced. Neither plan will create thousands of three-foot-long trout overnight, but there is hope, and when you are dealing with an extinct fish, hope is a rare and wonderful thing.