Thursday, July 2, 2015


Jessica, Ellie, and I recently visited the Grove Trout Rearing Station near Royal, Nebraska, where most of the state's trout are raised to fishable size. (There are a very few coldwater creeks with partially or totally self-sustaining populations, but a case could be made that even these are indirectly dependent on the work done here, which reduces the pressure on those vulnerable locales.)

Established in 1961, Grove originally consisted of a couple of spring-fed ponds, but was soon expanded by re-diverting part of Verdigre Creek's flow into an old streambed. Verdigre is a class-A coldwater stream, and additional aeration is provided to support high concentrations of trout within the station.

Grove is not a hatchery; trout (mostly rainbows, occasionally browns) are trucked in from the Rock Creek and Calamus hatcheries as fingerlings. They are fed a carefully controlled diet, and their development monitored by fisheries staff.

Once they reach a certain size, trout are moved to the old creekbed, where visitors are allowed to feed them ad lib. There are vending machines full of pellets scattered around the grounds, and these help defray the station's expenses, one quarter at a time.

"Feeding frenzy" is not too strong a word for what happens when pellets hit the water, but it soon became apparent that these trout have been quite conditioned to being fed by visitors and staff: the water churned anytime we happened to step near the banks.

When the time comes, trout are sucked from the raceways with a Honda-powered fish pump (this may sound violent, but actually spares them the stress of netting and handling) and deposited into fisheries trucks, specially equipped with aerators and monitoring equipment, for transport to various locations around Nebraska. Most are stocked only in the colder months, but those with sufficiently low water temperatures (including Verdigre Creek) may be stocked year-round.

In some respects, this is an industrial operation—it could be viewed as a mere feedlot for fish—but its park-like setting makes it a pleasant place for a visit, whether to initiate a feeding frenzy or to simply watch the rainbows cruise through the cool water.

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