PHOTOS: Touring Wyoming’s Largest Fish Hatchery in Casper
Today a bus-load of boys and girls along with myself learned that Dan Spea's fish hatchery is the biggest one of 10 total in Wyoming.
Thanks to an expansion in 2012, they raise about 2.1 to 2.3 million fish per year.
It's about 20 minutes from downtown Casper, and if you've never been, it's worth the drive!
You head out of town like you're going to Alcova. Eventually you'll turn on to Bessemer Bend, a scenic little route that weaves through peaceful farm houses and fields of hay.
You'll find the hatchery nestled along the west bank of the North Platte River.
Originally established in the Fifties, the hatchery has been in operation for 66 years!
Today was fun because I got the tour with the Boys and Girls Club of Central Wyoming. There excitement is infectious when the hatchery Superintendent, Lars, lets everyone grab a handful of fish food to throw into the tanks at the same time.
A flurry of fish dart up and down rapidly making the surface of the water tank look like carbonated soda.
"Do not put your hand in the tank!" the adults repeat. A group of boys giggle at one another.
Our tour begins in the fish rearing building. I keep wanting to call it the nursery. This is where the eggs are hatched.
Once they are between three and nine inches, they get moved to the next building.
Right now they have all different types of trout: brook, brown, cutthroat, rainbow. You can see row after row of giant tanks, most of which are filled with thousands of fingerlings.
They've also started investigating the possibility of rearing walleye, bluegill, and crappie. There is potential for another facility with cool and warm water to expand the fish species.
When the fingerlings graduate, they go to a third facility where they eat up to 90 pounds a day. The hatchery has an automatic feeding system that dispenses food multiple times a day for 10 seconds at a time.
The tanks in this facility are 10 feet deep and 36 feet wide. Each holds 60,000 fish.
When it's time, the hatchery distributes the young fish around the state, and sometimes make out-of-state swaps.
Fish are transported via truck and helicopter.
They stock catchable-size fish twice annually. The spring stocking season begins around the first of April and ends around the first of June. The fall stocking season begins about the end of September, and ends by the end of October.
Speas produces 50-60% of the state's production alone.
That's about 300,000 pounds of fish give-or-take, depending on the year.
In parting, I ask Lars why we need hatcheries. He explains that the wild stocks alone could not support the sport fisheries.
Later I learn, from the Wyoming Game and Fish's website that hunters, anglers, and wildlife watchers in Wyoming contribute more than $1 billion annually to the economy.
In Wyoming, fisheries are vital components of the state’s economy and citizens’ quality of life.
According to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, nearly one-third of Wyoming’s residents are anglers who spend over 90 percent of their fishing days in their home state.