Earlier this year, students from the Vermilion area watched as Division of Wildlife personnel stocked yearling steelhead trout produced at the Castalia State Fish Hatchery into the Vermilion river.
On a sting-your-nostrils kind of cold night in April, fisheries biologists sent jolts of electrical current into the walleye-filled coves of the Maumee River, and females plump with eggs squirmed to the surface.
These waterway ladies of the evening were netted, quickly brought to shore, and there a team of fisheries folks gently removed their spawn. With millions of Lake Erie walleyes already working on the next generation that will inhabit the rivers and the big lake, these progeny would be taking up residence elsewhere in the Buckeye State.
As part of a stocking program that will put just over 24 million fish of a variety of species into Ohio's lakes, rivers, and reservoirs this year, the walleye eggs were likely headed for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources hatchery at St. Mary's, a 160-acre facility in Auglaize County.
There, the fresh walleye eggs from the Maumee were mixed with the milt from male walleyes or that from male saugers. After incubation, the nine indoor rearing troughs and 26 outdoor ponds at the facility were utilized to produce hundreds of thousands of walleyes and saugeyes.
Once these fish reached fingerling size, the saugeyes and walleyes were trucked to sites around the state to replenish fish stocks that need a regular booster shot.
"Our saugeye and walleye are stocked in locations where natural reproduction is not deemed to be sufficient to maintain a stable population," said Tim Parrett, fish hatchery program administrator with the Division of Wildlife. "If it wasn't for our stocking efforts, eventually, the fish wouldn't be there."
Parrett said Ohio began stocking the saugeye hybrid in the late 1970s, initially at Deer Creek Reservoir in Stark County, about five miles north of Alliance. The fish did well in that impoundment, so the program expanded.
Stocking of the saugeye hybrid is now the largest element in the Ohio program, with about six million fingerlings being placed in some 52 lakes this year. There were 1.9 million walleyes stocked in 18 lakes, by comparison.
Saugeyes do better than walleyes in many of the inland waters of Ohio, Parrett said, and since this is a fertile hybrid, they are only placed in reservoirs where escape into the Lake Erie watershed is not possible, Parrett said.
The state of the art hatchery at Castalia, just southwest of Sandusky, taps into the robust flow of spring water from the blue-hole aquifers in the area to provide the necessary environment to raise steelhead and rainbow trout. Between the underground water sources and what is diverted from Cold Creek, some 12,500 gallons per minute flow into the facility.
Castalia produces all of the steelhead raised by the state and has the capacity to incubate up to 1 million eggs and feed up to 500,000 fingerlings. When those fish reach 6-8 inches in size as yearlings, they are stocked in the five Lake Erie tributary streams that provide one of the best steelhead fisheries in this part of the country.
These Ohio steelhead, a Michigan strain from the Little Manistee River, will migrate to Lake Erie in summer and then return to the rivers in the fall. Ohio's prime steelhead fishing is found in the Vermilion, Rocky, Chagrin, and Grand rivers and in Conneaut Creek.
The rainbow trout raised at Castalia are used for put-and-take stocking at a catchable size in ponds and lakes, and these stockings are usually associated with special youth-only fishing days. Several area ponds have hosted such events this year.
Brown trout are raised at the London Hatchery in Madison County and about 26,000 a year are stocked in three Ohio streams -- the Clear Fork Branch of the Mohican River near Loudonville, the Mad River near Bellefontaine, and Clear Creek in Hocking and Fairfield counties.
The brown trout stocking effort, which puts fish about nine inches long in the three waterways, is classified as a "put-grow-and-take" program, Parrett said.
"We don't see any natural reproduction there," he said, "and if we don't stock those streams, those fish would die off and there would not be trout in there any more."
The state has been stocking the Mad River for about 80 years, while brown trout stockings in the Clear Fork and Clear Creek began within the past couple decades.
Muskies are raised in smaller numbers, Parrett said, since they are more challenging to produce.
"They are probably the most difficult fish to raise," he said, "because throughout their life cycle, they have to have live fish to feed on. We have to coordinate the muskie hatch with the hatch of live forage fish to feed them."
Parrett said the tiny muskies start feeding on live shrimp, then move up to dining on carp fry and fathead minnows, also raised at the hatcheries. Muskies hatched in the spring reach 9-10 inches long by September and are stocked at Clear Fork reservoir, Rocky Fork Lake and Alum Creek Reservoir.
Ohio's state hatcheries also produce hybrid striped bass, a cross between white bass and striped bass that are called wipers in some regions of the country and are a very popular sportfish. About 1.8 million hybrid striped bass fry have been produced this year, and 200,000 fingerlings will be placed in inland lakes, with another 300,000 being stocked in the Ohio River.
The Ohio hatcheries also raise significant numbers of yellow perch, catfish, largemouth bass, and bluegills.
No state tax money is used in the fish hatchery operations, which are funded by the sale of fishing licenses and from an excise tax fishermen pay on purchases of rods, reels, fishing tackle, and fuel for their boats.
"The anglers of Ohio -- they pay for everything," Parrett said. "And the ultimate goal at the end of the day is for our anglers to have success."
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6068.