On The Air

Wildlife Piloting
Name Larry Gepfert
Age 54
Title Wildlife pilot, Colorado Parks and Wildlife
On the job 11 years
Location Grand Junction
Typical wildlife pilot salary $36,000 and up
Ever wonder how colorado’s alpine lakes stay full of trout year after year despite harsh winter freezes and overfishing in the summer? It’s because Larry Gepfert restocks them. As a pilot for Colorado Parks and Wildlife, Gepfert maneuvers a Cessna 185 in and out of Colorado’s peaks, valleys, and canyons, swooping as close as 100 feet above a lake to drop loads of tiny cutthroat trout fingerlings into the
water. It takes about a month for four pilots to stock 400 lakes.

The rest of the year, Gepfert logs 700 to 800 hours on missions that range from law enforcement during hunting season to tracking big-game migration patterns. His plane is customized to allow Gepfert to slow the aircraft so he can descend quickly from high altitudes without gaining a lot of airspeed. “People get this opinion that you have to have this big bravado to do it,” he says. “It’s almost the opposite. You need to have respect for the terrain and nature and the wind. You can’t go against it; you have to work with it. You’re not going to overpower it with these airplanes.”

Gepfert recalls a fatal accident in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in 2002. The pilot was stocking a lake when severe winds—“downdrafts”—forced a crash landing that killed the pilot. Although it hasn’t happened in this group since, that tragedy is a constant reminder to be vigilant. “There are a lot of days you’re looking at nothing but rocks; you’re going into blind canyons or coming over these ridges and dropping abruptly,” he says. “But we’re not out there hotdogging. Our number one job is to bring everybody home for dinner safely.”