Hundreds of yellow ovals offset the brown and green coloration of each female brown trout ready to spawn at the Manchester Fish Hatchery. The splashes of color are signs that trout spawning season is in full swing.
Brown trout spawning was completed a couple of weeks ago. Brood trout from the French Creek genetic lineage were collected from Spring Branch Creek in Delaware County. The fish are checked for ripeness and spawned streamside before being returned to the stream.
All brown trout are stocked as 2-inch fingerlings. “Anglers like these ‘wild’ stream raised fish. They are harder to catch than our put-and-take stocked fish,” explains Mike Steuck, Iowa DNR fisheries supervisor for interior streams. “Many of the public streams have lots of brown trout in them.”
Fewer and fewer brown trout fingerlings are raised and stocked as the number of self-sustaining, naturally reproducing brown trout populations increase throughout Northeast Iowa.
Brook trout, Iowa’s only native trout, give up their eggs in late October and early November. Eggs are taken streamside from wild South Pine Creek brook trout, fertilized and taken back to the Manchester Fish Hatchery to be raised and stocked as 2-inch fingerlings in June.
“As a part of DNR’s Brook Trout Restoration Program, we’re working to re-establish populations of Iowa ‘wild’ brook trout in streams with suitable habitat and excellent water quality,” said Steuck.
Rainbow trout, the backbone of Iowa’s trout program, take up much of December and January. Roughly 750,000 eggs will be collected this season.
Crews check for ripe female broodstock once a week. After a quick sedative bath to calm them, each big trout is held firmly over a plastic bowl, as one of the workers rolls a hand down her belly to force out a stream of orange-golden eggs—up to 4,000 to 6,000 per fish. Mixed in quickly is the milk-white sperm from two males. Water is added to activate the eggs and sperm allowing fertilization to occur. The ingredients are gently stirred with a turkey feather to avoid bruising the eggs.
The fertilized eggs are poured into an incubator tray and slid into their place below a stream of 50 to 52 degree water until they hatch. Tiny sac-fry hatch about 30 days after fertilization. Dark clouds of tiny fish grow in raceways at the hatchery. The fish are hand-fed for the first month, then “trained” to eat from automatic feeders.
As the trout develop and grow, they are monitored and transferred to larger tanks, then raceways. The fingerlings will be kept at Manchester or transferred to Iowa’s two other stations, near Elkader and Decorah, to be raised for future stocking. In 13 to 15 months, they will be a half-pound and ready to be stocked. Nearly 50 put-and-take streams throughout nine northeast Iowa counties are stocked from April through October and almost 20 community trout fishing locations are stocked through the cold weather months.
“We stock about 380,000 catchable rainbow trout from the hatcheries,” said Steuck. “We also stock about 60,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout fingerlings each year to grow in the streams.”
There’s natural spawning, mostly brown trout and some brook trout, in more than 75 northeast Iowa streams thanks to improved habitat and trout genetics, and an extended period of above average annual rainfall. Most trout caught, though, are spawned under the eyes of hatchery workers at Manchester. These coldwater fish are great fighters and beautiful in their spawning colors this time of year.
Find more information about Iowa trout streams and tips for trout fishing on the DNR website at www.iowadnr.gov/trout.