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Spawning brook trout: Brian Otten joins the staff at the Nevin State Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg to try his hand at spawning captive brook trout.

About the Nevin State Fish Hatchery:

Located at 3911 Fish Hatchery Road in Fitchburg (near Madison), Nevin Fish Hatchery is the oldest of all the hatcheries owned and operated by the state, opening in 1876.
Almost a half million trout are raised at the hatchery annually.
The hatchery hosts a wild strain brook and brown trout program as well as Irwin strain rainbow trout.
Five artesian wells and a spring supply the hatchery with around 1,500 gallons of water per minute.
The hatchery is open for tours of groups of 15 or more. Contact the supervisor at 608-275-3246. The hatchery is open from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Friday.

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From October through January each year, a weekly routine at the Nevin State Fish Hatchery in Fitchburg develops. And the highlight of this routine occurs on Wednesdays. That’s the day trout are spawned in captivity at the hatchery.

This process takes place earlier in the wild, but usingbrook and brown trout only one generation removed from the wild, the staff at the hatchery works in chilly conditions to bolster Wisconsin’s trout population.

The process begins in the fall as the fish management crew and Nevin staff visits the Ash Creek in Richland Center to spawn brooks in the field. These fertilized eggs grow in Fitchburg until they are old enough (2- to 3-year-olds work best) to be used as ‘wild brood’ to parent thousands of trout that will be returned to streams around southwestern Wisconsin.

Read more: Fish force their way into friendship, after all

More on fishing: Fishing news from around the state | Your fishing photos | Build a map | Read fishing reports | We're blogging about fishing

Why not just use the same trout over and over? Genetics. And the trout spawned at the hatchery are heartier because their parents came from the wild than those bred over and over in captivity, according to Nevin foreman Jason Himebauch.

The state-run hatcheries work together, sending personnel and more between facilities. A shipment of 50,000 wild brown trout eggs was on its way to the Osceola Hatchery on the morning of Wednesday, December 7. Osceola sends rainbow trout to be raised at the Nevin Hatchery, too.

Eighty brook trout were scheduled to be spawned that Wednesday morning. The female fish are identified as being ‘ripe’ with eggs, while the males are ready to go anytime. The fish are knocked out in one tub of water so that they are in a relaxed state for the process which expresses the eggs and sperm. A dry dish is used to collect the eggs first (around 1,500 from a single female) and then the male’s material is added. Water is poured into the dish to activate the fertilization of the eggs. About 50-60% of the eggs will be fertilized.

This is a young program and the staff would like to find ways to improve upon this fertilization percentage. Supervisor Mike Aquino said, “We’re always looking for ways to make (the percentage of eggs fertilized) better.”

The trout that grow from Wednesday’s spawning will eventually rejoin their grandparents in the wild. As will their parents, when they reach four or three years old.

This is important work for Wisconsin’s trout fishermen. And it attracts a volunteer or two. Beth Pfotenhauer has been helping out for about three months because she enjoys ‘learning something new.’

Brian Otten is digital content manager for Wisconsinoutdoorfun.com. He can be reached at (715) 845-0702 or botten@wisconsinoutdoorfun.com.

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