John Vonderlin: 1891: Pilarcitos Lake, Part II

Story by John Vonderlin
Email John: [email protected]
Hi June,
In Part 1 about Lake Pilarcitos, I detailed how the water of Lake Pilarcitos was so pure that a famous brewery was investigating, in the 1890s, its usage for making their ale locally. I also included a story about the unknown-to-experts planting of muskalonge (muskellunge) in the lake in 1893. Here’s an article from the May 4th, 1895 issue of the “Call,” that is a followup to that planting. It’s one of a series of articles I encountered that mentioned fishing, bicycling and picnicing being allowed at  Lake Pilarcitos around the turn of the 20th Century. How we went from that situation to the present, with its no or virtually no access, let alone fishing, except for water company employees, their families and friends is a little known story that I’ll cover in future postings.
“Lake Pilarcitos was opened to anglers on Monday last, and two gentlemen who returned from the latter place yesterday state that they had caught a splendid mass of trout and about half a dozen muskalonge of from one pound to two pounds in weight. It will be remembered that the Spring Valley Water Company stocked Lakes Pilarcitos and Merced about eighteen months ago with muskalonge fry, thinking that by so doing the muskalonge would thrive and eventually rid the Merced Lake of the much despised carp, which have grown very numerous in the latter. If the muskalonge are doing well in Pilarcitos Lake it is safe to say that the water company will instruct its keepers not to allow anglers to catch the fry of the fresh water sharks until such time as they will have arrived at a size when they can make trouble for anglers as well as the fish they prey upon.”
This next article was a pleasant surprise to me when I found it. It popped up when I tried a reversal of search terms at the “Chronicling America” website. Instead of using  Pilarcitos Lake, which had only 15 hits, I used  Lake Pilarcitos, and got 33. This article is from the May 6th, 1891 issue of “The Morning Call.”  While I think the biologic facts are way off, it gives a probable explanation of why officials thought a planting of muskellunge was a good idea just two years later. Enjoy. John
A Rash of Anglers to Lake Pilarcitos.
Evidence That Anadromous Fishes Will Not
Thrive in Fresh Water-
Now that with the exception of fingerlings, the streams adjacent to this city contain few trout, there was, as expected, a rush of anglers to Lake Pilarcitos on Saturday and Sunday. The lake was opened to the public on the Ist inst, and, as a consequence, large numbers of anglers prepared themselves for the occasion with a plentiful supply of tackle and lures best suited for lake fishing.
One angler, who is well-known to the fraternity, stated to a representative of The Call. yesterday, that there must have been at least calculation sixty rods on the lake on Sunday, and that with one or two exceptions the fish taken were small, the average not exceeding eight inches in length.
The great quantity of food matter which has accumulated in the lake this season has been the principal cause attributed for the exceptionally few catches of large fish. Trout or, more correctly speaking, young salmon, which the lake contains, are plentiful, but the large ones— of which will scale four pounds— are, in the language of the angler, chock full of food.
They will not be tempted to accept of an artificial lure until later in the season when the small streams which feed the lake run dry, and as a result the supply of natural food ill have become diminished to a great extent.
Quite a number of “trout” basketed on Saturday and Sunday showed the marked signs of the parasite. Complaints have been made in past years of the imperfect condition of the lake fish, owing to the attacks of a fresh-water worm, which cannot be exterminated as long as the lakes are propagated by the species of fish commonly called salmon trout.
Experienced anglers and pisciculturists laugh at the idea when told that the trout, or more correctly speaking, young salmon—steel heads— with which the Pilarcitos Lake have been stocked, will free themselves of these parasites when they become of a certain age. This is an erroneous belief. The fish of the above lake cannot escape the attacks of the fungus until they have had an opportunity of reaching their natural element— the salt water— as they belong to the class of anadromous fishes, which frequent the rivers during the spawning seasons, and immediately afterward retire to the salt water to recuperate.
The salmon, of which there are many species on this Coast are attacked by a saltwater parasite at certain seasons of the year, and to rid themselves of this troublesome pest they’re by nature endowed with an instinct which moves them to seek some fresh water river or stream to become free from this enemy.
When in the fresh or sweet water a few weeks the worm drops off, leaving the fish free from further annoyance on that score. But a parasite somewhat of a similar kind again attacks the fish when it remains in the fresh water any time longer than the law allows, so is speak, and unless the sufferer immediately retreats to it’s natural element it becomes lethargic and sickly and unfitted for table use.
The Pilarcitos Lake and other lakes of the water company have been stocked with this species of fish, erroneously termed salmon trout, and as a consequence the fish, unable to reach its native element—the ocean— in certain seasons of the year are attacked by a fresh-water fungus, which can never be exterminated as long as they remain in the lakes.

It has been suggested that the water company stock its preserves with the trout proper— the native of the fresh water—that is if it hopes to have a good table fish, which will also give the angler a fight for its life. The brown trout is a beautiful fish, which would thrive in the lakes as would also the Eastern trout, a consignment of which was received by Commissioner of Hatcheries Woodberry last year, and placed in Shovel Creek, a tributary of the Klamath River.


Owing to the marked resemblance of the rainbow trout, which have been taken from the Klamath River for propagating purposes, to the hook-bill salmon— that is, in appearance and general characteristics— as noted by anglers, it is the opinion of many experts that both are of the same family. Several thousand young rainbows were distributed last season by the Commissioners in the rivers and streams of this and the adjoining counties. Next year will have determined the success which the stocking ofthe streams has attained in this particular.

Of the large number of anglers who fished for “trout” at Lake Pilarcitos on Saturday and Sunday, the following named returned with good messes of small fish (average size 8 inches): A. Ebbetts, J. Viadero, Holmes, Butler, Oscar Lewis, Shingle Russel, Mayers
and son, and Captain Cummlngs.

The San Andreas Lake, which is well-stocked with black bass, will, in all probability, be opened about tbe Ist prox. The young bass will then be old enough to care for themselves, and as the fish are very prolific the company need have no alarm in opening the lake to anglers, as the bass have increased wonderfully in the past two years.