The odds of catching a legal-sized brown trout in the Waupaca River just went way up, thanks to the Wild Rose State Fish Hatchery.
“This is actually pretty exciting because this is the first time that the Wild Rose hatchery has been allowed to stock these brood stock inland since the onset of VHS in 2007,” said Randy Larson, the hatchery’s fish propagation supervisor. “It’s taken us five years to produce a disease-free certified brood stock that we can stock inland.”
Larson and his crew stocked 450 5-pound brown trout into the river Thursday, Sept. 22. Anglers won’t have much time to catch them this year, as the state’s inland trout season will close Friday, Sept. 30.
“We just talked to a gentlemen, he saw the fish that were put in and he was all excited about the 5-pound browns,” Larson said after he placed 100 fish into Waupaca’s Riverview Park, a few hundred feet downstream from the recently completed trout habitat restoration project.
“Another person asked if these fish are going to survive over winter,” he said. “Most definitely. They’re 5 pounds and they have a lot of fat reserves. People can come back next spring and summer and they’ll have a lot of fish to catch.”
The fish arrived in Waupaca shortly before 9 a.m. After stocking 75 fish in Waupaca’s Riverside Park, the crew moved upstream to the Shearer Street bridge (75 fish), Riverview Park, Swan Park (40 fish), the Anderson Road bridge (40 fish), the U.S. Highway 10 bridge (40 fish), the County Road Q bridge (40 fish at the new fishing access area) and the Cobbtown Road bridge (40 fish).
The hatchery also stocked 275 fish into Big Green Lake in Green Lake County and will stock Long, Spring and Johns lakes in Waushara County in the next few days.
The state Department of Natural Resources, which operates the Wild Rose hatchery, has stocked trout in area waters for years.
“A lot of times, our surplus brood stock used to go down to southwestern Wisconsin,” Larson said. “I talked with our local fish manager and I said, ‘Isn’t there some way we can get fish from the Wild Rose hatchery to be planted locally and people can have the opportunity to catch them and say they came from the Wild Rose hatchery?’ We’re happy we’re able to do that for local communities and businesses.”
That all changed after the discovery of VHS, a deadly virus first detected four years ago in the Lake Winnebago system.
“Before VHS, we were probably doing it every year and this is about the time of the year we would stock them,” Larson said. “These fish were raised entirely inside and never saw the light of day. The reason we’re able to stock them now rather than later in the year is we put these fish under what we call an artificial photo period. We actually began reducing the amount of light on these fish in May. We reduced it by about 15 minutes a week.
“Eventually, these fish began to believe that it was fall when it was still July and August,” he added. “We were able to spawn these fish earlier than fish in natural light conditions. That’s why we are able to stock these fish and still give fisherman a chance to catch them. Normally, they wouldn’t be stocked out until after the season is closed.”
Larson expects stocking to resume before the fishing opener, the first Saturday in May.
“We’re in the process of getting fish health certification,” he said. “When we can get those certificates, I foresee that we will be stocking more brown trout inland in April, before the fishing season opens. I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll be doing that in the future.”
He’d like to return to the Waupaca River each year.
“Some of the things that lure trout fishermen are the quiet streams and rivers they can get to,” he said. “They can be by themselves and it’s very peaceful and quiet. You can come downtown or you can go further upstream and find some really nice stretches of stream. Trout are very good eating fish, too. That’s a mix for success right there.”