By Deb Everts
Frigid temps on opening day of trout season didn’t deter any serious anglers in their pursuit of the “big one” as they fished area waters stocked by the Randolph Fish Hatchery.
Trout fishing season officially kicks-off April 1 every year and, thanks to the staff at the hatchery, area streams and lakes are teeming with trout.
Managed by Richard Borner, fish culturist 3, the facility keeps a healthy population of brook, brown and rainbow trout well-stocked in Western New York’s streams and lakes including the waters of Allegany State Park, Cattaraugus, Allegany, Chautauqua and Wyoming counties.
“The water got a little high for opening day, but we’ve had no cancellations due to high water,” Borner said. “The conditions will improve as the creeks go back down.”
Borner and his staff began stocking trout March 19 and expect to be finished in late May. To distribute the fish, a hatchery truck laden with trout meets volunteers who walk buckets of fish up and down the streams where they are carefully released.
The volunteers include students from Randolph, Ellicottville, Ashville BOCES and Ellicottville BOCES, as well as McKinley High School in Buffalo and members of Trout Unlimited.
“We will actually stock 170,000 fish out of this hatchery — approximately 44,000 in March, 90,000 in April and 35,000 in May,” Borner said. “We have more on hand, but those get transferred to other hatcheries to stock the Great Lakes.”
Including the fish they transfer to hatcheries in Bath and Caledonia for stocking, the Randolph hatchery raises and handles about 250,000 eight-inch fish that will get stocked into local waterways and all around Western New York. The Randolph hatchery truck also transports fish to Cayuga Lake, in the Finger Lakes Region, and as far away as Lake Ontario.
Borner said the hatchery’s stocking truck has a capacity of 6,000 8-inch fish. They can haul about 250 pounds of fish in each one of the tanks on the truck, so it carries almost a ton of fish. The DEC stocking truck is specifically equipped with tanks of oxygenated water for transporting fish.
“Fish production has been very good this year, and we’re right on schedule,” he said. “The fish did well and they are a little bigger this year because the tanks weren’t as crowded. This was because of some changes in policies set by Albany for us to raise less fish.”
Fish culturist Barry Hohmann said the fish are beautiful and they have raised some of the nicest trout that have come out of the hatchery in a long time.
According to Borner, the hatchery has both the broodstock and the production fish, called yearlings, to be stocked out. They stock mostly brown trout because of the three species — brown, brook and rainbow — they primarily do the best in Western New York waters.
He said brown trout tolerate the warmest water and can also tolerate the poorest water quality of the trout species. Rainbows can tolerate warm water, but not as warm as brown trout. Brook trout require the cleanest and highest water quality of all trouts.
“The rainbow trout are raised at other hatcheries. We have rainbow trout broodstock and we take rainbow trout eggs here, but we can’t hatch them here because of the whirling disease we got in 1998,” he said. “All our fish are tested for whirling disease and other diseases each fall by our fish pathology lab. They do a broodstock sampling and then they check the fingerlings. We’ve had a clean slate of health.”
Each fall, hatchery fish culturists strip, fertilize and incubate roughly 5.3 million eyed-eggs. Randolph keeps a portion and the rest are sent to other hatcheries in the state. The trout are raised in indoor culture tanks (the nursery) and, after about three months of age, they are transferred to harvest ponds until they reach the required size for release.
All three trout species of the spent broodstock — fish that have spawned — are released into area streams in late October. Borner said people are welcome to come in the fall and watch the staff take eggs. He said they usually start taking eggs the second week of September, Tuesday through Thursday, and the process goes on into early October.
One of 12 New York State Department of Environmental Conservation fish hatcheries, the Randolph Fish Hatchery has both the broodstock and yearlings to be stocked out. According to the DEC, the primary broodstock facility handles five-six million brook, brown and rainbow trout eggs each year. Annual production totals almost 100,000 pounds of fish.
The Randolph Fish Hatchery is located at 10943 Hatchery Road and is open to the public every day, year-round. Admission is free and visiting hours are 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. daily. Group tours are available during weekdays. To schedule, call the hatchery at 358-4755. For more information about fish stocking, call the Randolph Stocking Hotline at 358-2050, or visit online at dec.ny.gov.