Poudre River hatchery celebrates 60 years ... and plays key role in restoring healthy fishery
By Cherry Sokoloski
North Forty News
Contrary to fish tales being circulated, the Poudre River State Fish Hatchery
is alive and well. Located 40 miles up the Poudre Canyon on Colorado Highway
14, the facility is celebrating its 60th year in operation.
Not only is the hatchery open, but it's steadily expanding and improving
under the leadership of Arlene Ganek, manager of the facility and a 30-year
veteran there. For instance, a brand new hatchery building opened in May,
bringing with it new possibilities for the future, and two new water wells
supply the hatchery with disease-free water.
The so-called Poudre Unit, run by the Colorado Division of Wildlife, has
been instrumental in reestablishing the greenback cutthroat, a once-threatened
fish that is the only trout native to Colorado waters. Greenback cutthroat
eggs are collected and fertilized at the Poudre Unit, then shipped off
to another hatchery where they are hatched and raised to fingerling size.
These 2- to 3-inch cuts are then stocked from airplanes in mountain lakes.
The Poudre Unit is also playing a critical role in solving the whirling-disease
dilemma. This spring, Ganek said, the facility produced 1.3 million Hofer-cross
eggs. The Hofer strain of rainbow, a German import, is extremely resistant
to whirling disease, so it's helping to reestablish healthy, reproducing
rainbow trout populations in Colorado.
From a fisherman's standpoint, the Hofers are a welcome addition to the
creel because they're much larger than Colorado River 'bows.
Whirling disease can be blamed for false rumors about the Poudre Unit's
demise. Since it opened in 1948, the facility had been a rearing unit,
where fry were raised to catchable size. But, after the disease was discovered
at the hatchery in 1988, the earthen ponds that held young fish had to
be taken out of production. These ponds provided a good environment for
the whirling-disease parasite - thus a bad environment for raising fish.
Without the ponds, many assumed the facility was dead.
DOW officials did strongly consider closing the Poudre Unit because of
whirling disease. Instead, they decided to think outside the box, and they
came up with a new mission for the high-mountain facility. In 1998, it
became primarily a brood fish operation. The Poudre Unit keeps mature fish
on the premises, collects and fertilizes their eggs, then ships the eggs
to 10 other hatcheries in the state. At those facilities, eggs are incubated
until the fish hatch; then the fry are either stocked or raised to catchable
The Poudre Unit produces four million to six million eggs each spring.
To keep everything running smoothly, Ganek and Marde Hersh live on the
premises year-round. Other staffers include Jackie Matzner and Cliff Snyder.
Snyder, a former manager of the DOW's Poudre and Pueblo hatcheries, just
couldn't stay away from the fish when he retired in 2001, so he now works
at the Poudre Unit as a seasonal employee.
The upper Poudre River is an ideal location for a brood fish operation,
Ganek noted. The fish thrive on the cold river water, which is diverted
to the facility. The natural conditions encourage fish to maintain their
natural spawning cycles. Each female produces eggs just once a year at
the Poudre Unit; at some other facilities, where water is warmer, they
can spawn slowly for several months.
The beauty of being a brood fish operation is that whirling disease can
be circumvented. Even though the adult brooders are whirling-disease positive,
the eggs will remain disease-free if they are incubated in disease-free
water. With the new hatchery building, that's now possible at the Poudre
Before the Poudre Unit had its own hatchery and well water, fertilized
eggs had to be rushed to other hatcheries for incubating, because river
water - which is contaminated with whirling-disease parasites - could not
be used for this purpose.
Some of the eggs are now kept at the Poudre hatchery. In fact, for the
first time this year, the staff will be able to raise its own brood fish
from eggs. Before, brooders were brought in from other state facilities.
The Poudre Unit hasn't completely given up its function as a rearing unit.
This year, about 50,000 rainbows will be raised to 10 inches, considered
catchable size. These will be stocked in Front Range lakes such as Flatiron
and Carter. In the past, when the facility operated strictly as a rearing
unit, it produced 350,000 to 400,000 catchables every year.
Fishermen who catch stocked fish in Colorado will likely appreciate all
the effort required to raise these fish. At the Poudre Unit, it takes one
and one-half to two years to grow a rainbow or cutthroat to catchable size.
Newly hatched fish must be fed by hand six times a day.
Rainbows spawn in April and May, while cutthroat trout produce their eggs
in June. The Poudre Unit currently has brood fish for three types of rainbows
--Colorado River, Hofer and Tasmanian - and two strains of greenback cutthroat.
On the day this reporter visited the facility, 38 female greenbacks were
stripped of their eggs - resulting in 34,916 eggs or an average of 919
eggs per fish.
Greenbacks are not the champion egg producers at the facility, however.
The newcomers, Hofer rainbows, average 3,000 eggs per female. Tasmanian
rainbows average 2,000 eggs per fish.
The Poudre River State Fish Hatchery is open 365 days a year, and the public
is welcome to visit from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. each day - although the new hatchery
building is off-limits. The Poudre Unit is home to at least 60,000 fish
at any one time. Youngsters can even feed the fish - with food costing
25 cents per handful.