Spawning Keystone Select Trout

It has been a tough summer for fishing. The entire month of July has been a daily routine of hot sun and high humidity, followed by heavy thunderstorms. Earlier this week parts of eastern Pennsylvania received over 4” of rain in one hour. Each week the rivers and streams go up and just as they are coming back down, here comes another storm. That’s just how some summers go. But on the positive side, I’m looking forward to plenty of water come September and October as salmon and steelhead start making their way towards the tributaries off of the eastern shores of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie. Although no one can predict it, I’d be willing to bet there will be some good runs of fish this autumn.

With all this high water, I decided to take a break from fly fishing and accept the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission’s offer to tour their Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery near Carlisle. I developed an interest in touring this facility when I started filming my Keystone Select video series on my YouTube channel. The Huntsdale Hatchery is responsible for supplying many of the trout that are stocked in Pennsylvania’s Keystone Select designated waters. I’ve had plenty of experience reaping the benefits of the program on the water but have been curious about the behind the scenes processes that make it happen.

Last week my girlfriend Janelle and I got up early and drove to Carlisle to the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery, which sits on the Yellow Breeches Creek off of Lebo Road in Cumberland County. We arrived at the hatchery at 8:00AM, just in time to meet Andrew Wagner, the Station Foreman. Andrew spent thirty minutes answering questions I had and giving me a background on the Keystone Select Trout Program. He explained that the Keystone Select Program was started in 2016 with the goal of stocking more fish and larger fish, in concentrated areas in 8 streams across Pennsylvania. A majority of these fish are 2-1/2 year old excess brood fish that have reached a length of 14-20”. The program results in up to 250 trout per square mile in the select Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only waters (read more about the Keystone Select Program here). Prior to being stocked in Pennsylvania waters, the excess brood trout go through a spawning process at the hatchery each summer.

 A view of the outdoor fish raceways at the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery.

A view of the outdoor fish raceways at the Huntsdale State Fish Hatchery.

After explaining the inner workings of the hatchery and the Keystone Select Program, Andrew led us up to the fish raceways where several fish culturists were preparing for the trout spawning process. Andrew introduced me to Joe Tusing, one of the fish culturists at the Huntsdale Hatchery. Joe walked Janelle and I through the process that the culturists go through to spawn the trout. Rainbow, brown, and brook trout are all spawned as part of the process. The larger male and female brood trout are netted separately and seven or eight at a time are placed into large holding containers that are filled with water and a sedative. Within a couple of minutes the fish come under the influence of the sedative and go to sleep. Once they reach this state, the fish culturists take the males and females, one at a time, and squeeze the eggs and milt simultaneously into a bucket. The female trout contain approximately 1,000 eggs for each pound of their weight. The hatchery crew let me jump into the raceway with them and push eggs from several large females into a bucket. The eggs easily flow out of the fish and once empty the fish appears skinny, like a pregnant mother that’s just given birth. After the eggs and milt are taken, the fish are placed in a separate raceway and given time to recover from the sedative. In this state the fish will lay on the bottom of the raceway upside down, almost appearing dead except for the movement of their gills.

 One of the large 2-1/2 year old brood trout that will eventually be stocked in a Keystone Select water.

One of the large 2-1/2 year old brood trout that will eventually be stocked in a Keystone Select water.

After the eggs and milt are gathered, they are taken to the back of a truck where iodine is added to clean the eggs. The iodine aids in prepping the eggs to allow the sperm in the milt to more easily penetrate the eggs allowing for fertilization to occur. As the eggs sit, water is run over them and the eggs go from soft to hard. Once they’ve had a chance to fertilize, the eggs are moved indoors to an incubation area where they are monitored until they are hatched.  Once hatched the fry are raised to a point to which they can be moved to the outdoor raceways to be fed and moved through the different sections of the hatchery until they are ready for stocking.

A lot of time and effort goes into that nice size trout that fishermen pull out of Keystone Select Waters, but the guys at the hatchery love every minute of it. Almost everyone I talked to mentioned that knowing that a young boy or girl is going to get a chance to catch a fish of a lifetime is what motivated them to do what they do. There will always be debates about how Fish & Game Commissions spend their money. There will always be debates about what’s better for the state of Pennsylvania, wild trout or stocked trout efforts. But one thing that cannot be argued is that the current stocking program and the Keystone Select Program is creating memories for a new generation of fishermen during a time when most children would rather stare at an iPad than wet a line. I truly believe the state’s trout stocking program is key in developing our next generation of sportsmen.

 Taking a picture with Station Foreman, Andrew Wagner.

Taking a picture with Station Foreman, Andrew Wagner.

I want to personally thank Dee Fisher, Andrew Wagner, Joe Tusing, and the rest of the guys at the hatchery. Thanks for allowing Janelle and I to visit and thanks for taking the time to share your knowledge with me. I have a new appreciation for the state program and I hope that everyone that watches the YouTube video I’ve produced gains some insight as well.

The state fish hatcheries are open to the public Monday through Friday. Moms and dads, take your kids out to a local hatchery and teach them about the fish life cycle.