Each year, the Roaring River State Park Hatchery produces more than 212,000 pounds of fish to stock the 1.7 miles of stream that wind through the tag area of the trout park.
"The bulk of the fish, around 270,000, are stocked in the tag area, but around 6,000 trout are also stocked in the remaining three miles of stream inside the park and the four and a half miles between the park and Eagle Rock," said Jerry Dean, hatchery manager. "In addition, Roaring River Hatchery also stocks 7,000 fish in Capps Creek and 5,000 fish in Hickory Creek."
Hatchery staff members dedicate many hours to producing the quality fish that fill the Roaring River stream and other waterways. This process begins in mid-January when staff members collect eggs and sperm from around 800 breeder stock fish that are kept at the Roaring River Hatchery.
"We check the fish weekly during the two months when the fish are ready to spawn," said Kevin Asbury, hatchery assistant manager. "Eggs remain good quality for around a week, so we check the female fish once a week in order to catch them all."
Each week, staff members evaluate the female breeder fish one by one and collect the trout that are ready to lay eggs. Those trout are placed in an anesthetic solution that sedates the fish making it easier for the staff members to handle them.
After the female trout are sedated, a small amount of eggs are collected and evaluated. Eggs that are determined to be of good quality are drained and gathered in one container and eggs that are of poor quality are collected in a separate container.
The eggs that are determined to be of poor quality are later fed to the smaller fish at the hatchery.
"Each fish produces around 900 eggs per pound of body weight," said Dean. "So a five-pound fish will have around 4,500 eggs."
After collecting a large batch of quality eggs and three tubes of sperm, which are gathered from around nine male fish, hatchery staff members fertilize the eggs in a controlled environment by placing the trout sperm and salt water into a pan with the dry eggs.
"We keep the eggs dry to keep the eggs from swelling until the sperm is activated," said Dean. "The salt water acts as a lubricant so the sperm is better dispersed but activation does not occur until the eggs are placed in fresh water."
After the eggs and sperm are combined, they are placed in a container of fresh water for around an hour. Then the fertilized eggs are transferred to a covered container, called an egg hatching jar. After 21 days, the eggs hatch and are placed in troughs inside the Roaring River Hatchery where they continue to grow.
It takes around a year and a half for the trout to reach full size from the time they are fertilized. Around 65 percent of the fertilized eggs will survive, said Dean.
As hatchery staff members go through the spawning process to collect the eggs and sperm from the breeder trout, they also take time to evaluate the fish.
Male fish are used for one spawning period before they are released into the stream, but female fish can remain in the breeding program for up to five years.
During each spawning, the female fish are evaluated to determine if they are producing quality eggs or not. The trout that are producing quality eggs remain in the breeder program. Those that have poor quality eggs are released into the stream. Many of the female trout that are released into the stream are large enough to be considered lunkers.
The Roaring River State Park Hatchery staff evaluates spawning trout nearly every week from mid-January through February. Trout will be evaluated for a final time during the first week in March.