In the depths of an Iowa winter
some fishermen descend in their own version of hibernation,
seeding our lakes and streams to only the hardiest of anglers.
But inside an Iowa DNR hatchery, a team of fishery experts is
giving every Iowans a reason to rediscover cold weather angling.
On a crisp winter morning near Manchester, DNR staff wade
through a series of outdoor raceways.
Each concrete channel houses hundreds of adult rainbow trout. By mid-January, this batch of
rainbows has reached a fertility climax as the ripe females swim
with bulging egg filled bellies. The freshly plucked fish are
shipped inside to build what DNR staff call the backbone of
Iowa’s trout program. Dave Marolf: What we do in a
controlled environment here at the fish hatchery is a great
improvement on the survival that we could expect in the same
process that occurs naturally in our streams.
The females are temporarily dipped into an anesthetic bath
before staff firmly massage their bellies into a steady
stream of golden eggs. Male trout are then utilized to
fertilize those same eggs. Dave Marolf: Once water is added
to this mixture of semen and eggs, fertilization occurs
within seconds. There are literally billions of
sperm cells in this mixture. Fertilized eggs rest in trays
for 30 days under a constant flow of 52 degree water.
Dave Marolf: That is called the eyed eggs stage, when you can
see the eye through the eggshell you know you can handle the egg
without damaging the developing embryo.
That’s when we first look at these eggs again.
The process is repeated over and over to create a staggering
number of fish, more than 250,000 trout for Iowa’s aquatic
ecosystem. Dave Marolf: We pick out any
white, dead, organic matter. These are some eggs that have
died during the incubation process.
There’s some eggs that were never fertilized.
But all of the white has to be picked from these eggs.
The fertilized eggs of January 2013 will be half pound trout in
2014. At that stage, the DNR raised
fish will be released into nearly 50 northeast Iowa streams
and increasingly into urban lakes around our state.
To witness the reach of Iowa DNR’s urban stocking program,
just take a look at how far the staff will travel.
In this case, more than five hours and hundreds of miles from
the Big Spring Hatchery in northeast Iowa to Council Bluffs
on the Missouri River. Wayne Wingert: We usually start
loading early in the morning, get them loaded on and then the
fish fall really well. As long as you can keep the
temperature and the oxygen on the fish then they’ll haul a
long time, stay on the truck and look really healthy.
After opening up a slice of big lake in Council Bluffs, 1,000
rainbow trout are pumped underneath the frozen surface.
Bryan Hayes: The whole state of Iowa is cold water at least six
months out of the year so from mid-October to mid-April we can
bring trout into places like Council Bluffs and create that
fishing we’re looking for. Families of experienced and
first-time fishermen have been waiting all day for a chance to
catch a fish found more often on the other side of Iowa.
Wayne Wingert: The truck was 48 degrees and we’ll see what the
lake is. You don’t want the temperature
difference between the two to be too drastic or it can be hard on
the fish. Right at 40.
According to the Iowa DNR, urban stocking rose from just three
ponds 25 years ago to 16 quarries, ponds and small lakes
this winter, each one bringing trout directly to the people of
Iowa. John Batt: It has taken pretty
good hold as far as people getting out and getting the
trout stamp and using the facility.
I think the DNR officials have said that it increased
tremendously the first two years.
I think it quadrupled because you didn’t have the trout
fishing on this part of the state.
Those first-time winter anglers can use that annual trout fee to
head to northeast Iowa in the spring, summer or fall.
In the meantime, thousands of people who may never have fished
or tasted trout are hooked for years to come.
Bryan Hayes: We love to see the kids come out.
We encourage parents to bring the kids out, expose them to
fishing. Kids gravitate naturally to it.
They have a ball. The trout provide an easy fish
to catch for kids and it’s a big part of the program.