Crystal hatchery resumes stocking duty |

Crystal hatchery resumes stocking duty

Janet Urquhart
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
Don Lechuga, acting manager at the Crystal River Hatchery, empties a net of rainbow trout into Ruedi Reservoir Thursday to check their reaction to the water before releasing a load of some 500 fish into the lake. Janet Urquhart/The Aspen Times

CARBONDALE ” For the first time in four years, hefty rainbows and cutthroats from the Crystal Fish Hatchery near Carbondale are boosting trout waters throughout Colorado.

In spring 2004, the state Division of Wildlife hatchery was yanked as a supplier of fish to waters with natural trout populations after two trout collected in a routine sample at the hatchery tested positive for whirling disease.

After a multiyear effort to eliminate the source of the disease in the spring-fed hatchery and monitor its fish population for a reoccurrence, the DOW declared the facility disease-free late last fall.

This spring, Crystal hatchery trout are rolling again to places such as Ruedi Reservoir on the Fryingpan River above Basalt, where 500 rainbow trout averaging 1 to 2 pounds apiece and about 18 inches in length were dumped into the cold water on Thursday. There, they may provide a significant tug on some angler’s rod before the summer is out.

“It’s been a long haul. We’ve done a lot to protect the hatchery,” said Don Lechuga, acting manager at the facility. “We’re really happy.”

The Crystal hatchery remains primarily a brood facility ” a spawning operation where millions of eggs from several strains of rainbow trout along with Snake River cutthroats are harvested, fertilized and shipped to other hatcheries where the trout are reared for release. Whirling disease can’t be passed from trout to egg, so the hatchery continued to focus on that function while it was off-line as a supplier of trout to most of Colorado’s lakes and streams. The hatchery’s fish were stocked only in habitats where they would survive a short time ” typically urban lakes and reservoirs on the Front Range and far Western Slope that had no natural trout populations.

Now, some local waters are getting the big fish, which can be larger than the typical trout stocked by the DOW because they’re often kept at the hatchery longer than the usual stocker while they’re used as brood fish. Lunkers in the two-pound range were placed in Lake Christine near Basalt earlier this spring.

Next year, the Crystal River, which flows next to the hatchery, could get some of the fat rainbows that cruise up and down the hatchery raceways.

“Now that we’re negative, we’ll be able to put our name in the hat to stock the Crystal,” Lechuga said.

So far this spring, the hatchery has placed some 6,500 trout ” fish measuring at least 14 inches ” throughout the state, he said. About 800 more will be trucked somewhere.

Hatchery operators suspect a compromised irrigation ditch infected the hatchery’s spring-water source with whirling disease, a parasitic infection that can cause heavily infested fish to become deformed or swim in circles ” hence its name. The disease has wiped out natural populations of trout in some waters.

The ditch was enclosed in a pipe and the hatchery went through a painstaking process of placing caged “sentinel” fish its springs and raceways, then testing them for the disease. Monthly negative test results on a multitude of fish over nearly two years convinced the DOW to clear the hatchery for stocking duty.

Among the rainbows the hatchery is now rearing and stocking is the so-called “Hofer cross” ” a new strain of rainbow trout that is resistant to whirling disease and, biologists believe, will successfully spawn in the wild, giving rise to the hope that wild, self-sustaining rainbow populations will once more thrive in Colorado rivers.

American Lake in the Maroon Bells-Snowmass Wilderness Area is slated to get 280 cutthroat trout late this summer, but don’t pack your flyrod just yet.

The fish will all be an inch long.

The Colorado Division of Wildlife has also pegged Anderson, Weller and Truro lakes ” all off Independence Pass, east of Aspen ” for hundreds of 1- or 2-inch cutthroats as part of this year’s stocking efforts.

And 73,000 specimens of the Hofer/Colorado River rainbow cross ” the new strain of trout that appears to be both resistant to whirling disease and able to reproduce naturally ” is scheduled for release in the Roaring Fork, Fryingpan and Eagle rivers between May and October. They’ll be 3 inches long.

The Crystal River above Carbondale is slated to get 10,000 of the Hofer cross ” all about 5 inches long.

Anglers looking to improve their odds of landing what the DOW refers to as “catchable” fish ” 10-inch rainbows placed specifically for the catching and taking ” might want to try their luck in the Crystal River, Grizzly Reservoir on Independence Pass, Chapman Dam and Ruedi Reservoir in the upper Fryingpan Valley, or at Beaver Lake near Marble, among other waters. The fish are scheduled for release at various times this spring and summer.

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