Yampa On Tuesday morning in Yampa, about 2,000 rainbow trout were loaded into a Colorado Division of Wildlife truck headed for their new home - Rangers Lake, about two hours away.
The hefty, 10-inch trout were the last batch the Finger Rock Fish Hatchery in Yampa sent out into the world. The move marked the end of the unit's stocking season, which typically lasts from May to early September.
Mitch Espinoza, the unit's superintendent, said sending the trout off to Colorado's high mountain lakes and streams is often a bittersweet experience.
"You get attached to them," he said. "It's very rewarding being able to find them a home, and help people have a better appreciation for the natural resources. That's the best part."
Tuesday's late-season stocking marked a very successful year for the unit.
About 165,000 rainbow and brown trout were driven to rivers, lakes and streams in Colorado in 2007. An average year yields about 150,000 trout stocked.
It takes about two years for trout eggs to hatch and reach catchable size, which is about 10 inches, Espinoza said.
Subcatchable fish, which constitute a considerable size of the unit's fish population, range in size from 1 to 5 inches. Subcatchable fish are stocked primarily to maintain healthy fish populations, not for recreation.
The two groups, combined with fish kept in the hatchery and nursery ponds, are about 625,000 strong.
"We've got a few mouths to feed," Espinoza said jokingly. "These fish are very well taken care of."
The unit stocks fish from as far north as Steamboat Lake to as far away as the Poudre River Valley. Finger Rock also participates in Routt County school education programs and stocks fish for Hayden's Huck Finn Days and Oak Creek's Labor Day fishing derbies.
"People usually get pretty excited to see a stocking truck pulling up," he said. "You definitely get to meet a lot of great people out in the field, people who don't always know what it takes to get them fish this size."
Built in 1948, the Finger Rock Fish Hatchery rearing unit boasts about 22 acres nestled between two cattle ranches off Colorado Highway 131 south of Yampa. It is one of 19 Colorado Division of Wildlife fish hatcheries in the state. In addition to Espinoza, there are two wildlife technicians that live and work at the unit, though one of those positions is open.
"There's someone here 'round the clock," he said. "We keep a close eye on things."
In addition to stocking fish for anglers, the unit's goals are to create healthy, sustainable populations of trout, which DOW field biologists monitor and study, Espinoza said.
"We have some very passionate and dedicated people who ensure the fish survive and thrive," he said. "It's pretty amazing that they thrive out there with all that they face."
Around 90 percent of the fish survive after leaving Finger Rock, he added.
Espinoza, who has worked at the unit for seven years, said his job combines his passion for being outdoors and working with fish.
"We live out in God's country. It's hard to beat," he said.
Finger Rock is open to the public from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Individual, school and group tours are available by calling the hatchery at 638-4490.
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