About once a month I work the weekends at the hatchery. This gives me a special chance to get up close and personal with each of the areas and projects on the station. Because the visitor center doesn’t open until 10:00, that gives us a couple of hours to get all the other chores done and out of the way.

About once a month I work the weekends at the hatchery. This gives me a special chance to get up close and personal with each of the areas and projects on the station. Because the visitor center doesn’t open until 10:00, that gives us a couple of hours to get all the other chores done and out of the way.
First on the list this past weekend was preparing the food for the larval sturgeon. They are less than two months old now, and are pretty small. Which means their mouths are really small. They are basically on a plankton diet at this point, and we either hatch out tiny shrimp, or get it in large, frozen blocks. Each tank of little fish gets a scrumptious platter of three flavors: adult copepods, brine shrimp and bloodworms (sounds tasty, huh?!). They are frozen solid, so they all need to be thawed out before the fish can consume them. Thus, the first duty is to get the right amount of food in a bowl, add water and begin the thaw.
While that food is melting, I moved over to the tank room. This is where we house the young trout indoors until they are large enough to move out. Their tanks need to be cleaned each day, washing the waste out, and fresh food put in their feeders. On hot summer days, reaching into the water is a pleasant consequence of doing these chores, but in the cold of winter, I try to stay as dry as possible.
Next up is checking on the raceway inhabitants. This is where we have the older trout. These large, simulated streams are cleaned every other day during the week, so weekends consist of checking their overall condition and netting out any “morts” that wash down to the screen (dead fish). In addition to the occasional regular morts, we have unwelcome guests every now and then adding some fatalities to our number. While not unusual for a hatchery, believe it or not we get our fair share of predation by a local family of minks. These are aquatic weasels that are quite fond of our trout, and they leave heads and tails from their snacks in piles at various places. We can try to relocate these furry fish-eaters, but their nocturnal lifestyle and wily ways frequently elude our efforts.
Our smallest raceways house our endangered Topeka shiner minnows, and they just get a quick check to make sure everything looks normal with them. They were swimming around (adults and young alike) just fine, so nothing but goodness to report with them. When we have production trout in the ponds, they would get checked on next, and screens would be cleaned for maximized water flow, but our ponds are empty and being reconstructed for now. They’ll get restocked come November or so when it gets cooler out. With the trout all cared for, it is back to the sturgeon facilities to feed the melted shrimp, bloodworms and copepods. The little fish swim quite happily around and snap up the various treats right away. The adult sturgeon got fed on Friday before the weekend, so they just get a quick glance to make sure all is well.
Once all that is done, and the fish have all been attended to, my attention turns to the visitor center and its routines. Getting the ever-popular food station filled and put out is a must, as is the neatening of the patio area. Bathrooms and floors are cleaned and looking sharp, as are smooth and glass surfaces. Once the clock strikes ten, the doors are unlocked and time for the visitors and their many and varied needs. The last few months have seen a huge run on the National Parks Senior passes, so that has kept everyone busy, and this past weekend was no different.
It is a nice change of pace to do weekend duty. As a result of the altered schedule, I’ll have a three-day weekend coming up, so that is a plus. There’s just something special about going around to each different place, doing chores and getting wet with the fish on these days. It’s different without all the other staff members and it’s good to change things up from time to time. So rest assured, unless it is a holiday, we keep things going 7 days a week – so come on in and enjoy the hatchery sometime soon!

Bruce Hallman writes a column for the Neosho Daily News.