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From Fry to Fingerlings

As of April 26, 2012 we have about 150 fingerling brook trout at the hatchery.  Yes they are fingerlings and no longer fry.  Most are over 2 inches long; they are feeding well; and are retaining their inherent fear of people.

We operated the Tellico Brook Trout Hatchery as a flow through system this winter because we were not able to get the re-circulating system purchased and assembled.  Additionally, because we had such a warm winter, the temperature of the water that feeds the hatchery never stayed cold (below 40oF) for very long.  The fry kept on feeding all winter.  So, basically,  even if the re-circulating system had been set up the fry would not have grown much faster.  But, we all know that this winter was much warmer than most and a recirculating system at Tellico is essential for insuring good growth of the fry.

Sycamore Creek Brook Trout and Ephemerellidae Mayfly (photo courtesy Jim Herrig)

The adult brook trout that were collected and spawned last fall were held over with plans to keep them for spawning next fall.  These fish are also retaining their wild characteristics and should not pass on any hatchery traits.  We are not selecting “brood” fish that are easy to handle; grow exceptionally well on trout chow; or are adapted to seeing people.   Plans, for now, are to spawn these fish in the fall along with additional brook trout that will be collected in September/October then feed them for a couple of months to restore their body fat before releasing them back into Sycamore Creek.  The brook trout collected this fall will be held for a second spawning if this procedure works out for the currently held fish.

We have had two interns at the Tellico Brook Trout Hatchery over the winter.  They did their work well and, hopefully, benefitted from the experience of working at the hatchery.  We will find another intern to begin work in September.

USFS and TWRA Personnel Electrofish Sycamore Creek (Photo Courtesy Jim Herrig)

On April 19 Jim Herrig (US Forest Service), Travis Scott (TWRA), and Steven Mattocks (intern) hiked into the headwaters of Sycamore Creek with two backpack shockers and all the gear needed to conduct an electrofishing survey.  We electrofished below the natural barrier and caught 53 brook trout, including 10 Young-of-the-Year.  We weighed and measured all of them.  Their condition was excellent.  There were lots of bugs emerging including large yellow mayflies (see picture).  We also collected 17 rainbow trout which were also in good condition.  One rainbow was over 10 inches.  Hopefully, we will soon see brook trout of that size and quality in Sycamore Creek and other streams in East Tennessee as we continue our efforts to restore this native species.

Jim Herrig

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On September 28 over 50 people participated in the latest effort to restore Southern Appalachian brook trout.  69 brookies were collected by a crew of TWRA and Forest Service personnel.  The trout were brought from a very remote section of Sycamore Creek up to the Benton-Macaye Trail where members of the Back Country Horsemen packed them into panyards and hauled them with horses to the upper trail head.  At the trail head the brookies were put into a water tank in the back of a pickup and transported to the Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery at Tellico.
 
Mean while, on the same day, three crews electrofished the lower 1.6 miles of Sycamore Creek to collect and remove rainbow trout.  Removing the rainbow trout will make room for the fingerling brook trout that will be produced in the hatchery.  Total removal of all rainbow trout is not necessary because brookies and rainbows can co-exist in the same stream.  About 800 rainbow trout were collected and transported in panyards on horseback to a waiting stocking truck at the lower trail head.  All 800 were rainbows were successfully transported down the trail and stocked into the Tellico River.
 

USFWS staff stripping eggs from a female Southern Appalachian brook trout at the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout hatchery.

On October 3, Biologists from the Erwin National Fish Hatchery came to the hatchery and tested the brook trout to see if the could be spawned.  One female was successfully spawned and produced about 85 eggs. The eggs were fertilized by three male brookies and placed into an incubator.  We will test the female brook trout again in about 10 days.

Jim Herrig

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After over a year of internal and external renovations and improvements, the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout Hatchery cleans up well.  On the outside the blockwork, foundation, and wood trim got new coats of paint and new signage.  Inside, the floor and foundation were primed and painted with a durable epoxy finish; The walls were insulated and covered with white fiberglass panels to facilitate cleaning; The ceiling was primed and repainted; Attic access and an attic door were added for storage; The electrical wiring was inspected and new outlets added; Tanks, raceways, incubators, reservoirs, filters, heating elements, chillers, pumps, plumbing, shelving, and air conditioning which will make up the infrastructure for fish propagation were installed as well. 

Agencies and organizations such as the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency, U.S. Forest Service Cherokee National Forest, Conservation Fisheries Inc., U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Dale Hollow and Erwin, Trout Unlimited, and conservationists contributed to this phase of the project and their contributions are greatly appreciated.

That was the easy part.  In order to maximize and realize the full potential of the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout hatchery, adequate sources of funding will need to be raised.  The ability to raise this funding will make or break the project.  It’s that critical.  This funding is crucial to the operation of the facility, the propagation of the brook trout, and the restoration of streams the Southern Appalachian brook trout fingerlings will be introduced into and fiscally we’re a long way from where we need to be.

In an effort to help build and promote project awareness, identify and raise critical funding, the project is currently in the process of forming a non-profit 501(c)(3) entity. They will explore for consideration and aquisition, potential grants and sources of project funding.

The images below were provided by Freshwaters Illustrated Director and biologist Jeremy Monroe and taken by Freshwater Illustrated biologist and photographer Dave Herasimtschuk this past Spring.  These are Sycamore Creek brook trout and are progeny of Southern Appalachian brook trout fingerlings that were hatched and raised at the Tellico Southern Appalachian Brook Trout hatchery in 1993 and 1994.  The hatchery and project produced a wild naturally reproducing population of Southern Appalachian brook trout that still thrives today in Sycamore Creek.

(click on the images to enlarge)

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