On Tuesday afternoon, fish culturist Chad Fritz stood in water up to his waste in Jimsmith Lake holding a large diameter water pipe, live fish and water gushing out the end. The long pipe extended from the back of the Kootenay Fish Hatchery truck and the rainbow trout shooting into the lake each measured about 25 centimetres.
“These are just over a year,” Owen Schoenburger, assistant manager at the Kootenay Trout Hatchery, said of the trout. “They are classified as spring catchable. They are about 15 months old.”
The released fish swim around confused at their new surroundings. Some flop onto the land and have to be put back into the water, while others look as if they don’t know where to go. Slowly the hundreds of fish disperse to find adventure and snacks in deeper waters.
This week, the fish hatchery stocked Jimsmith Lake with 1,000 rainbow trout. Those will add to the 2,400 that were let free in the lake back in the fall of 2013.
Prior to that, Jim smith had not been stocked since 2002.
The rainbow trout that were put in the lake are Fraser Valley spring cachables, explained Shoenburger. They are a sterile strain that don’t reproduce.
“The majority of the fish we stock are non-reproducing,” he said. “It’s mainly to protect any wild stocks. These can’t breed with them.”
These fish put all of their energy into growth, unlike fish that reproduce, which later in life divert their energy into breeding.
Later in the summer, the Ministry of Forests, Lands and Natural Resource Operations (FLNRO) will assess the fish population in the lake to see how it’s fairing.
The fish released in the fall were marked by the hatchery, while this batch was not, so the ministry will be able to tell how the former batch is doing.
He said Jimsmith was not stocked with trout for a number of years because of a presence of perch and bass, but the ministry now wants to attempt to create a population of rainbow trout in the lake.
He said it was felt that the trout couldn’t compete with the perch and the bass that were in the lake, but that notion has changed.
The fish hatchery is a part of Freshwater Fisheries Society of BC, which was created back in 2003. It is North America’s only private, non-profit fisheries service funded by fishing licence revenues. The Kootenay Fish Hatchery is one of five freshwater fish hatcheries managed by the society.
Every year the hatcheries raise and release over eight million trout, char and kokanee salmon, as well as managing recovery programs for endangered species like white sturgeon.
Leanne Jones, office manager at the local hatchery, said the hatchery stocks about half a million fish around the East Kootenay. Jones said they stock cutthroat trout, brook trout and Kokanee salmon. Sometimes lakes are stocked to top up winter kill and sometiems it’s to compete with perch or bass that are in the body of water, she explained.
Those 25-centimetre long rainbow trout that were dropped off in Jimsmith will likely grow to 35 to 40 centimetres by the fall.
“In good production lakes those fish will be about a pound,” she said.
This year, they have already stocked many lakes in the area, including Norbury, New Lake, Northstar, Moyie, Premier Lake, Wapitee and a number of others. They stock some 100 lakes in the area. Some of those stocks are catchable size, while some are younger ,smaller fry.
Jones said the hatcheries get information from FLNRO on which lakes to stock based on angler demand and the fish population. Prior to 2003, the hatcheries were under the provincial government.