Drought near disastrous at trout hatcheries

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Trout--hatcheryFish and Boat Commission photo
Hatchery trout like  these in a display tank draw huge crowds of fishermen to the water every year across the state.

To have trout you first have to have water.

Obvious, right? Well, anglers almost got a hard lesson in how true that is.

The drought conditions that plagued parts of Pennsylvania last summer – and that continue to some degree now – almost forced the Fish and Boat Commission to prematurely remove trout from a number of its hatcheries.

The agency plans to stock about 3.2 million adult trout for anglers by spring. The process of raising them began last summer and requires consistent cold water.

That, though, has been in short supply.

“This was one of the worst years we’ve had at some of our hatcheries as far as springs and wells and things like that and maintaining flows,” said Brian Wisner, chief of the bureau of hatcheries for the agency.

The Oswayo hatchery in Potter County, for example, relies on a couple of springs and a well. None provide all of the water that’s needed even under the best of circumstances.

“This year was the driest they had that anyone could remember,” Wisner said.

Things got so bad that the commission had to stop feeding its fish for a while. It was on the verge of having to remove a large portion of them in fact, either transferring them to another facility of stocking them early, Winser added.

Things were just as bad at the Tylersville hatchery in Clinton County. It needs about 4,000 gallons of water per minute to operate.

In most years, its springs produce 10,000 to 15,000. This year — for the first time in perhaps six or seven decades — Wisner said it barely reached the minimum.

“We got this close to pulling 50,000 trout out of our raceways,” Wisner said.

Those hatcheries and all the others in the system got just enough rain at just the right time to save the trout, Wisner said.

He said the commission should be able to get t hose fish up to their optimal stocking size – close to 11 inches – by opening day, too.

Plans are to stock 722 stream sections and 124 lakes with 3,146,300 trout. That includes 2,015,920 rainbow trout, 639,140 browns and 491,240 brooks.

There will be some big trout among them. Plans are to release 8,670 “trophy” golden rainbows going 1.5 pounds and 14 inches, on average.

There will be big brood trout of all varieties stocked, though.

“This year we’re going to have some really nice trophy trout going out,” Wisner said.

Details on when and where fish will be stocked can be found here.

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