At the north end of the dam, the trout truck veers left down a gradual embankment and stops 25 feet from the water's edge. We park up on top. By the time we climb out and walk down the embankment, Mark Bower, transport and equipment supervisor for the Whitewater Trout Hatchery near Palm Springs, has already pulled on his knee-high rubber boots and is pulling a 30-foot reinforced rubber hose, about a foot in diameter, from the equipment box underneath the left side of the truck's bed. On top of the flatbed sit three tanks, each holding 3000 pounds of trout. Each tank is as wide as the flatbed of the truck, each about five feet wide, four feet tall. The driver's-side end of all three has a foot-wide spout with a clamped cap over it. When Bower steps up and unclamps the foremost of the three, I expect a torrent of trout and water to rush out. Half a gallon or so spills, soaking one leg of Bower's blue jeans, but that's it. After he clamps the hose where the cap had been, Bower invites me to climb up to look into the tank. I do, and he climbs up behind me. Two latches hold the lid on the tank. Bower unlatches them and lifts the lid. I lean over and look, expecting to see a zillion replicas of the seven-inch trout I caught in Yosemite last summer. Instead, what I see look more like salmon than trout. Some are close to two feet long and must weigh eight pounds. "The biggest ones are in this front tank," Bower tells me. With that, he pulls up on a stainless steel lever on the left side of the tank directly above the spout. Immediately, the water level in the tank starts dropping half a foot per second, and the fish, startled, start flipping around, splashing cold water in my face. In less than five seconds, all the water is out, along with all but a couple of trout, which Bower gently nudges forward into the spout with a small broom.
I turn and look at the black rubber hose, undulating with the bodies of hundreds of giant trout, which have fattened on protein-rich commercial fish food at the hatchery. At the end of the hose, the fish barrel into the water with fin-flipping fury. Most dart into deeper water. Some try to swim back up the hose but are beaten back by the hurtling bodies of their tank mates. Others inexplicably swim into shallow water and beach themselves. But another ranger walking back and forth along the shore pokes them back into deeper water with a plastic boat paddle.
A hundred yards out in the lake, along the line of beachball-sized orange buoys that keep boats away from the dam, six metal fishing boats, each with a couple of anglers, are lined up in anticipation of the new trout. Another couple of fishermen stand on the shore where the buoy line meets land. The human fishermen are accompanied by one of nature's best fishermen, a large black cormorant, which has already caught himself a sizeable trout. But when he perches on one of the buoys, the trout drops out of his beak and swims away.
Bower repeats the process with the remaining two tanks, then stows his gear and gives an invoice to Flohr, who signs it, then shows it to me. "We just spent $6930," he says.
Dixon Lake, which offers fishing every day of the year except Christmas -- bigmouth bass, bluegill, and catfish are the other game fish in the lake -- charges each angler $5 to fish. Flohr pleads ignorance when asked if the permit fees cover the cost of stocking. Back at the office, he asks his supervisor, Tony Smock. "No," Smock answers, "we operate in the red. We don't collect enough income from the permits we sell to cover the cost of fishing. But this is a city recreational facility, so our main purpose is to provide recreation for the entire region. We have to buy all of our trout from Whitewater Hatchery. We don't get any state-supplied fish."
Smock says the City of Escondido spends "nearly $137,000" per year to stock Dixon Lake and nearby Lake Wohlford with trout. The breakdown is..."32,400 pounds of trout at Dixon and 26,600 pounds at Wohlford."
In comparison to the 32,400 pounds of trout Escondido puts in 75-acre Dixon Lake, the City of San Diego puts 32,000 pounds -- also from Whitewater -- in 150-acre Lake Miramar annually, and stocks Lake Murray -- also a 150-acre reservoir -- with 16,000 pounds, which the California Department of Fish and Game matches with trout from its hatchery in Mojave.
Trout isn't the only fish that the City of Escondido stocks in its lakes. Though the bass are prolific enough to keep populations up and hearty enough to survive the warm summer water, catfish need to be restocked periodically. "The catfish," Smock explains, "are from a hatchery out along the Colorado River called St. Anthony's Hatchery. This year we stocked 13,000 pounds of catfish at Dixon and 7000 pounds of catfish at Lake Wohlford."
The fish are bought by the pound. "Catfish are $2.10 a pound," Smock says, "and the trout are $2.31. We pay more than restaurants do because they're receiving them dead and we get them alive."