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Many people think of trout in terms of going from the water to the frying pan but it all actually starts in reverse, from fertilized trout eggs in a pan to hatching and eventually going to the water where they can be caught.
Take a look inside the Manchester Fish Hatchery and the trout spawning process.
More than 130 million fish are stocked annually into Iowa waters, raised in cold water fish hatcheries, cool and warm water hatcheries and egg-taking stations. Fish raised and stocked from hatcheries include trout, channel catfish, hybrid striped bass, muskellunge, northern pike, saugeye, walleye and more.
All DNR offices, including fish hatcheries, are closed to the public until further notice due to COVID-19 precautions.
Big Spring Fish Hatchery
16212 Big Spring Road, Elkader, IA 52043, 563-245-2446
Gary Siegwarth; Wayne Wingert
About 150,000 rainbow trout are raised at Big Spring and stocked by hatchery personnel into 15 cold-water streams. All trout reared at Big Spring are obtained from the Manchester Hatchery when they are 2-3 inches and then grown to catchable-size (10-12 inches). It takes approximately 15 months to grow a trout to catchable-size.
The water supply for Big Spring is fed by the largest cold-water spring in Iowa. Flows from the spring usually range from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons per minute (GPM), but can exceed 150,000 GPM. The Big Spring Watershed is one of the most well-known and studied sites in the nation when it comes to information on groundwater in a karst (limestone) dominated landscape.
The Big Spring Rearing Station is located along the Turkey River 10 miles northwest of Elkader in Clayton County. The Big Spring Basin is a showcase for large sinkholes, losing streams and caves.
The Turkey River at Big Spring is open for public fishing. Recently completed renovations include an improved angler access trail along the river, a trout pond at the entrance that is open for public fishing and a kids fishing pond for young anglers 15 and under (kids must be accompanied by a licensed adult). Trout are stocked in the Turkey River, Big Spring Pond and the Kids Fishing Pond 2-3 times a week from April 1 through the end of October. The hatchery grounds and Turkey River are open to the public 7 days a week year round. A primitive campground is located at Big Spring that is open to the public and within walking distance of the hatchery.
The fish hatchery is open to the public 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. Group tours and inspiring school educational events can be scheduled by calling the hatchery at 563-245-2446. Office hours are 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
How To Get Here: Take county road X16 (Gunder Road) north of Elkader past the golf course; go west on Big Spring Road.
What you need to fish for trout: Anglers 16 or older need to have a fishing license and trout privilege to fish for trout. Anglers younger than 16 can fish for trout if they are with a licensed adult or they can buy their own trout privilege if they want to keep their own daily limit of 5 trout.
Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery
2321 Siewers Spring Road, Decorah, IA 52101, 563-382-8324
Brian Malaise; Chris Larson; Caleb Schnitzler
The Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish hatchery is a production rearing station for growing Shasta strain rainbow trout. About 130,000 catchable-size rainbow trout are raised each year. Decorah fish hatchery personnel are responsible for stocking 15 put-and-take streams in Allamakee, Howard, Mitchell and Winneshiek counties. The hatchery also stocks five seasonal urban lakes in Mason City, Sioux City, Spencer, Ames and Ankeny or Bondurant.
All streams stocked are posted on a calendar available on the Iowa DNR website, although some streams are unannounced. Thirteen streams are stocked once a week and two every other week. Because some streams get too warm during late June, July and August stressing fish, these streams are not stocked. Stocking is done from April through October.
The Chuck Gipp Decorah Fish Hatchery is located one mile south of Decorah in Winneshiek County. The picturesque limestone office and residence date back to the 1930s as a project of the Civilian Conservation Corps. The hatchery has 24 cement flow-through raceways and three rubber lined earthen ponds.
The fish hatchery is open to the public 365 days a year from sunrise to sunset. Group tours can be scheduled by calling the hatchery at 563-382-8324. Office hours are 7:30 a.m. – 4:00 p.m.
How To Get Here: From Highway 9, take Trout Run Road for about 1.5 miles. Turn south on Siewers Spring Road to the hatchery.
Fairport Fish Hatchery
3390 Hwy 22, Muscatine, IA 52761, 563-263-5062
Andy Fowler; Adam Thiese; Melanie Harkness
The Fairport Fish Hatchery is a warm-water extensive culture station located on the Mississippi River near Muscatine. Eighteen ponds are used to hatch and raise warm-water angling favorites such as largemouth bass and bluegill. Adult largemouth bass are kept at the hatchery year-around.
These fish are referred to as brood stock and are placed in ponds for spawning. When the ponds are drained, the fish are gathered and transferred to the holding house for sorting before being transported to lakes. In addition to largemouth bass and bluegill, the facility produces walleyes for stocking in Iowa's interior rivers.
The Fairport Fish Hatchery is located along Iowa Highway 22, eight miles east of Muscatine in Muscatine County. It has a very rich history, serving Iowa's natural resources and its anglers for many years. The facility is located along the scenic upper Mississippi River valley. The land where the hatchery is located was donated to the federal government by the Association of Button Manufacturers. It was established as a biological station by Congress in 1908.
The station was set up for freshwater mussel research and propagation, which was of economic importance to the region at the time. In 1929 the station became a fish hatchery and during the late 1960's the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife spent more than $200,000 renovating and modernizing it. In 1973, the bureau suffered from severe budget cuts and the federal pond stocking program ended. As a result, operation of the Fairport Fish Hatchery was turned over to the Department of Natural Resources. It was an opportunity to add, without cost to Iowa anglers, an excellent, well-managed hatchery to the system.
Guttenberg Fish Hatchery
331 S River Park Dr., Guttenberg, IA 52052, 563-252-1156
Karen Osterkamp; Kevin Hanson
The Guttenberg Fish Hatchery, located in downtown Guttenberg, has produced northern pike fry for the Iowa DNR since 1974. Before that, the hatchery was owned and operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Each spring, after ice out, staff at Guttenberg and other DNR stations in eastern Iowa net northern pike from local backwater lakes. Hatchery operations typically start around March 15 and all fry are shipped out of the Guttenberg hatchery by April 15.
Station activities include:
Manchester Fish Hatchery
22693 - 205th Ave., Manchester, IA 52057, 563-927-3276
Dan Rosauer; Aaron Schwartzhoff; Eric Bailey; Garald Rivers
The Manchester Fish Hatchery, located 4 miles southeast of Manchester, has a long and storied history. The first fish were produced here in the 1890’s. It was operated by the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service until 1976 when it was given to the state of Iowa via a land trade. Since 1976, it has functioned as Iowa’s trout brood stock station where trout are spawned, incubated and hatched each year to produce over 600,000 fish for stocking in Iowa waters.
Mount Ayr Fish Hatchery
2093 E Loch Ayr Rd., Mt. Ayr, IA 50854, 641-464-3108
Andy Jansen; Jon Christensen
The Mount Ayr Fish Hatchery, located one mile north of Mount Ayr, was established in 1941. The initial design consisted of five earthen diked ponds. Three additional ponds were added in 1961 increasing the total production area to a little over six acres. Recent changes to pond design and layout have decreased the number of rearing ponds to five with an increased production area of approximately eight acres.
Historically, the facility has raised channel catfish, largemouth bass, bluegills, redear sunfish, walleye, sauger, smallmouth bass and hybrid striped bass. Recent production has focused on hybrid striped bass, largemouth bass, bluegills and blue catfish.
Hybrid striped bass fry are grown into fingerlings from fry shipped to Mount Ayr in early May from other hatcheries. The two-inch long fingerlings are then stocked into southwest and south central Iowa lakes, Coralville Reservoir and Rathbun Reservoir. Largemouth bass are grown to five inch fingerlings from two inch fingerlings received from the Fairport Hatchery. Bluegill production is achieved through natural reproduction then stocked in the fall.
Rathbun Fish Hatchery
15053 Hatchery Place, Moravia, IA 52571, 641-647-2406
Chris Clouse; Randy Esser; Paula Surber; Darcy Cashatt; Adam Havard; Bryan Daniels
The Rathbun Fish Hatchery is an intensive warm water fish hatchery. The species of fish propagated here grow best in water temperatures between 50 and 90 F°. Channel catfish and walleye are the primary fish species raised at the hatchery. Muskellunge are over wintered and other species may be raised based on stocking requests throughout the state. Brood stock walleye are collected in April from Rathbun Lake using gill nets. These fish are taken back to the hatchery where they are spawned before being returned to the lake. Fish produced at this facility are stocked statewide in Iowa ponds, rivers and more than 250 lakes and reservoirs.
Each year, more than 100,000 eight-inch fingerling catfish, 75,000 two-inch fingerling catfish, 70 million walleye fry, 225,000 two-inch walleye fingerlings and 175,000 nine-inch walleye fingerlings are produced at the hatchery.
Although the Rathbun Hatchery facility is relatively new, it is not a new project. Planning officially started in December 1970 with construction beginning in March 1974. The facility was dedicated on June 11, 1977. The project cost nearly $6 million with funds coming from three sources. The Iowa Legislature appropriated $2.3 million from Iowa's general fund. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers provided $700,000 and the sale of hunting and fishing licenses financed about $3 million. Annual operating funds are provided entirely by the sale of hunting and fishing licenses. The original design included 40 indoor raceways and 20 semi-circular outdoor tanks. Ten one acre ponds were completed in 2000.
The Rathbun Hatchery is located in Appanoose County about seven miles north of Centerville on road J5T. The hatchery is open year-round Monday through Friday, 7:45 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Large groups must call ahead (641-647-2406) to make an appointment. Small groups are self-guided.
Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery
122 252nd Ave., Spirit Lake, IA 51360, 712-336-1840
Kim Hawkins; Aaron Ohrn; Shawn Peterson; Jeremy Menting
The Spirit Lake Fish Hatchery is a walleye, northern pike and muskellunge hatching and rearing station. Production facilities include seven egg incubators with a total capacity of 1100 quarts, 20 indoor raceways, six non-drainable ponds and two natural lakes. Water is obtained from Spirit Lake and is discharged into East Okoboji Lake.
The hatching period begins in late March, when ice cover leaves area lakes. Adult fish are collected when they travel the shoreline to spawn and are captured with gillnets. Fish are transported to the hatchery where eggs are removed and fertilized. All adult fish are returned to the lake in which they were captured. Incubation takes place in special jars that allow fresh water to flow over the eggs, supplying oxygen. Walleye eggs are also collected from Storm Lake and Clear Lake, and transported to the Spirit Lake hatchery for incubation. After hatching, fish may be stocked as fry or reared to advanced fingerling stages. Fry are fed a commercial diet in the hatchery or stocked into a nursery lake where they eat natural foods.
Each year, 95 million walleye fry, 250,000 two-inch walleye fingerlings, 100,000 six-inch walleye fingerlings, 25,000 seven-inch walleye fingerlings, 1 million northern pike fry, 200,000 three-inch northern pike fingerlings, 1,000 ten-inch northern pike fingerlings, 500,000 muskellunge fry, 25,000 four-inch muskellunge fingerlings and 4,000 11-inch walleye fingerlings are produced at the hatchery.