Roaring River Fish Hatchery back in trout production after long renovation project

Published: Jan. 12, 2021 at 8:19 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 12, 2021 at 9:10 PM CST
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It’s been a long time coming.

After two years and $1.9 million in renovation work, the Roaring River State Park Fish Hatchery near Cassville is back in operation, helping supply trout to not only its own river but to other state parks across Missouri.

In 2018 the complex project was started as water was drained from the hatchery and fish production halted. Fish that were already in the hatchery were moved to facilities at Shepherd of the Hills, Montauk State Park and Bennett Springs State Park. Those hatcheries provided stock for Roaring River State Park during the construction overhaul, and that will continue into the 2021 season.

Roaring River is normally a very important part of the state’s hatchery system.

“We have 40 raceways and we produced around 3-400,000 fish a year at about 210,000 pounds of fish,” said Brad Farwell, the Assistant Manager at the hatchery. “At the hatchery building we’ll raise about 6-700,000 three-inch fish a year and ship those to Bennett Springs and Montauk and keep quite a few for ourselves.”

But for two years now, that production has gone down to?

“Zero,” Farwell replied.

Now the hatchery is back in operation although the process of adding fish is still going on and the hatchery won’t be able to provide its own stock for another year.

The good news though is that the facility, originally built in 1937, has been upgraded to better handle flooding and provide clean water and better water pressure, which are critical factors in raising fish.

One of the main upgrades involved replacing a flood-control structure at the spring’s entrance with a leak-proof pipeline connected to a water treatment apparatus located in a small building near the spring.

Inside you’ll find a large rotating screen that clears debris such as leaves or algae from the spring water. A high-pressure sprayer then knocks the debris off the screen into a catch-basin leaving clean water to run into the hatchery building.

“Before that we were out here with rakes picking up leaves every 10-15 minutes so this is a big improvement for us,” Farwell said. “Also we would run the risk of losing water in the pools and losing tens of thousands of dollars of fish.”

The improvements also included replacing the manual-operated gates in the spring pool falls with electrically-operated gates.

“Doing it by hand would take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour-and-a-half,” Farwell said. “And as the water was rising during flooding scenarios we’d have to be out here every 15-20 minutes raising or lowering the gates. Now we can go three-or-four times faster.”

Taking care of all these fish does require a careful watch and someone is on duty at the hatchery 24-hours-a-day every day of the year to make sure things run smoothly. As the fish grow they are moved from the hatchery building to the outside pools and then to different pools as they increase in size.

Apart from the rows-and-rows of rectangular pools are round pools that are reserved for the cream of the crop.

“These are allotted for lunkers,” Farwell explained. “When they get three-pounds or larger we have an allotment that we put out in the river every year. It varies per year somewhere between 150-250. Typically for opening day we’ll stock 100 lunkers.”

Opening day (March 1) is not that far away and for thousands of anglers it will be a chance to escape the crazy problems we’re dealing with right now and get back to a simpler time.

“The world seems like it’s a different place right now,” Farwell said. “But when you come out here down the hill and into the valley it takes you back to a time when things were just a little calmer and under control. You can come out here and keep your safe distance and enjoy the outdoors.”

And maybe grab one of those lunkers.

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