Hat Creek: From Past to Present


By Drew Braugh
CalTrout Mt. Shasta/Klamath Regional Director

Hat Creek, California

California Trout was founded on the daring idea that healthy, functional rivers could sustain resilient wild trout populations without the help of hatcheries. By 1971, state fisheries managers had nearly given up on the preposterous concept of sensitive cold-water fish reproducing naturally.

Consequently, when founding CalTrout member Richard May approached the Fish and Game Commission that same year with delusions of radically rethinking the way we manage rivers and fish in California, few imagined his vision would galvanize a new conservation ethic around fly-fishing and springboard CalTrout towards 50-years of storied existence and profound impact.


Cover Photo: Hat Creek


Photo: Hat Creek



Following Hat Creek, CDFW designated a total of 59 Heritage and Wild Trout Streams for protection across California. Anglers statewide refined their preference for fly-fishing and sharpened their senses to appreciate the vibrancy and stunning genetic diversity of wild and native fish in special places like the McCloud River, Walker River, Carson River, Smith River, Eel River, Eagle Lake, and Kern River.

Proudly, CalTrout’s commitment to Hat Creek remains as strong today as it was 50 years ago: a rare feat to stay invested in one transcendent organizational priority across multiple generations of leadership, partnerships, and personnel.


Photo: Hat Creek Wild Trout Project Sign



In 2021, CalTrout is designing the next phase of restoration and protection to carry on the work that Richard May began so many decades ago. Looking forward, CalTrout’s deep connection with the conservation and cultural legacy of Hat Creek grows stronger every year.

Richard May established a model, demonstrated a better to way to think about managing rivers, and sparked a paradigm shift that continues to play out today. But now, even greater challenges threaten the future of California’s most revered streams and native fish populations.


To ensure the future of streams like Hat Creek over the next 50 years, CalTrout will need to find solutions for protecting Heritage and Wild Trout Waters from a rapidly changing climate and the associated impact of prolonged drought, catastrophic fire, and water demands for people and agriculture.

Thankfully, the legacy of Hat Creek reminds us that solutions exist when great organizations and determined people come together around a shared vision for a better future. 

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