Hatchery is where Taneycomo’s success story starts

Fishermen can meet their future when they step inside the Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery at the edge of Lake Taneycomo.

Thousands of trout reside in the jars, tanks and raceways in the facility, the largest cold-water hatchery in Missouri.

This is the lifeblood of Taneycomo’s famous trout fishery, the place where it all starts. That lunker you just caught? Chances are, it was one day a resident of this hatchery.

Between 350,000 and 400,000 pounds of trout are produced here each year, with 80 percent of that going into Lake Taneycomo. The remainder of the fish go into other Missouri trout management areas or trout parks.

You’ll see fish of all sizes and stages of life here. There are tiny fry wriggling around, still trying to absorb their egg sacs, there are the huge brood fish that supply the eggs for the hatching program, and there are all sizes in between.

“We hatch the eggs here in a controlled setting because we have a much higher success rate than the fish would in the wild,” said Clint Hale, the hatchery manager of the Missouri Department of Conservation facility. “Our success rate is 80 to 90 percent, while it’s less than 20 percent in the wild.”

Fertilized eggs are placed in jars, where they receive a constant flow of cold water and aeration. They hatch in one month and they are moved to inside raceways where they are fed a commercial food and monitored for disease. By the time they are 18 months old, they usually have grown to 11 inches and ready to be stocked into Lake Taneycomo.

It’s not a fail-safe program. Last fall, dissolved oxygen rates in the water feeding the hatchery — water from Table Rock Lake —dropped dangerously low and the hatchery lost large numbers of trout. Quick action by hatchery staff in moving trout to more oxygenated water in the hatchery complex and also to other facilities helped avoid even worse problems.

But hatchery officials doubt fishermen will see much of a difference in the fishing. Fish from other hatcheries will help make up the slack, and plenty of trout will still fill Taneycomo.

Brent Frazee: 816-234-4319, @fishboybrent