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Outdoors Fishing Rockbridge Hatchery Tour

  A Tour of Rockbridge Hatchery

Rockbridge Trout RanchBud McCullough, the hatchery manager, said they begin the hatching process for the fish currently in the hatchery around the first of November. They begin with 450 female rainbow trout, and gently assist the spawning process by squeezing the eggs out of them. They do the same to remove the milt from 150 male rainbow trout, and then bring the eggs and the milt together in a water-filled container. Once fertilized, the trout eggs become embryos, and begin growing. This process continues weekly until late winter, when they have enough tiny fingerlings to supply a future generation of trout to the spring-fed stream at Rockbridge.

Inside the hatchery:
1 These rainbow fingerlings are 3 or 4 weeks old, living in tanks inside the hatchery. The hatchery is in the basement of the large metal building you can see next to the upper fish ponds by N Highway, just before the turn to Rockbridge.  2 Water coming in at left hits a splash board, to let nitrogen gas dissolved in the water to pass into the air. Nitrogen gas does not harm most local fish, but it can kill the baby rainbow trout, which are not native to this area. 
3 Tanks full of fingerlings, with well water coming in from the back and being aerated from tank to tank. Well water is used because it is free of the various parasites and bacteria present in the creek or the spring water. 4  Another view of water hitting the splash board on its way into the tank. The natural habitat of these fish is fast-flowing mountain streams. The natural agitation of the water there dislodges nitrogen gas bubbles in the same way as the splash board. 
5 Because so many fingerlings are kept together in a tank, they can  pass diseases from one to all, just like in groups of humans. Also like humans, as they grow they become hardier and less likely to be damaged by their "foreign" environment.  6 By the time they go outside, the fingerlings will be strong enough to live in spring water. The water in their ponds comes from Rockbridge Spring. Its flow is 12,345,000 gallons per day. 
7 Here a channel carrying water from the spring enters the upper ponds. You can see the bank of Spring Creek to the rear.  8 The channel is a sluice, lined with concrete, and there are metal gates that control how much water enters the complex system of tanks. 
9 Gravity does the work as the water flows downstream through the concrete tanks. 10 The end of the upper ponds. From here the water flows down into Spring Creek, and then under the bridge. 
11 Spring Creek flows under the N Highway bridge.  12 And into the fishing pond, with the pretty bluffs behind it

Related Stories:

Spawning at Rockbridge Trout Ranch

History of Rockbridge

Rockbridge Mill

  Text and photos by Peter Callaway.