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Osceola Fish Hatchery helps state keep trout populations high

Nov 19, 2023

Vince Kobernick and Rachel Schoenecker spawn rainbow trout at the Osceola Fish Hatchery. Over 750,000 trout were stocked throughout Wisconsin in 2022-23. Some of those fish came from the Osceola Hatchery.

Trout have always been a fish surrounded by reverence for their hard-fighting demeanor and delicious table fare. Because of that, efforts to stock Wisconsin bodies of water are a continuous endeavor. Hatcheries like the Osceola Fish Hatchery are an essential part of those efforts, raising trout from eggs and stocked throughout the state for anglers to enjoy.

The Osceola Fish Hatchery has been in the Village of Osceola since roughly the 1870’s where it started as a privately owned trout pond known as Troutmere. It wasn’t until the 1920’s that a conservation commission formed by the State of Wisconsin, in the first state fisheries effort, leased Troutmere from owner A. Hansen when it would become the 389-acre Osceola Fish Hatchery that still stands today.

The Osceola Fish Hatchery focuses on spawning and raising two species of trout: rainbow and brook trout. It has maintained a lot of its processes since its inception, sticking to an outdoor, spring-fed approach as opposed to newer, indoor hatcheries.

“We’re a historically ‘old-school’ hatchery,” said Osceola Fish Hatchery employee, Levi Frazier. “A lot of other hatcheries aren’t remotely outside. They’ll use pole sheds, indoor ponds and stuff like that, but other than our rearing station, we’re mainly an outdoor hatchery; our raceways connected end-to-end stretch a full mile.”

Raceways are the concrete structures that can be seen covering the grounds of the Osceola Hatchery property that are a holding pens for the trout being raised on site. As the trout raised in the hatchery grow to maturity, they swim freely in sections of the raceways that are filled with crystal-clear, spring fed water.

“This is like a goldmine for raising cold-water fish,” said Frazier. “Our water comes naturally from one of the best artesian wells in northern Wisconsin.”

Once the rainbows and brookies reach maturity, it’s time to spawn them out and get them ready for stocking. From start to finish, the process of spawning, raising and stocking trout in Wisconsin waterbodies is rigorous and time-consuming.

“We spawn the rainbow trout in July and the brook trout in October,” said Frazier. “We take our three-year-old females and pair them with our two-year old males for their milt. We also enhance genetic diversity by doing that. We seine the raceway to collect our males and females and keep them in separate holding containers.

“We then massage the abdomen of the female to release her eggs. We do the same thing with the males to release their milt into the eggs. You have anywhere from 40 to 60 seconds before the micropyle, a small opening in the casing of the egg, will close, so you really have to be quick with it.

“Then we’ll rinse the eggs to get rid of any excess milt and another employee will let the eggs sit so they can fully absorb the water enclosed in an embryotic capsule. At that point, the eggs should be fertilized.”

The fertilized eggs are then disinfected, held in rolling jars, and monitored as they develop. The eggs will “eye up” after roughly 21 days when the first signs of the embryo forming appear as a small dot in the egg. From there, they are monitored as they develop into sac-fry, then swim-up fry which are then fed after absorbing their yolk sac. The fish then grow into fingerlings, then yearlings, and then to the final stage of brood stock. Fish in this age of development are ready to spawn and continue the life cycle before they are stocked in Wisconsin water bodies.

After spawning, the female trout are considered “spent” after releasing all of their eggs, they are kept until the fall when they will be “harvested” – meaning they will be taken to a Wisconsin body of water with a prescription for a quota of trout and stocked. The males will be “harvested” and stocked before the females after they are done spawning.

“We use Ford F450 pickup trucks with flat beds on them with 800-gallon stainless steel tanks split into two separate tanks,” said Frazier. “They’re equipped with two oxygen bottles and two aerators to keep the fish healthy as we transport them. We also add salt to the water that helps to keep the fish calm during transport. We do a full truck evaluation before we ever load the fish into the tanks. Then, we back up the truck to a fill pipe to fill the tanks with water to the appropriate level before adding the desired quota of fish for the body of water we’re stocking them in.

“From there we drive to the body of water and survey the area and take water temperatures so we can document that information. Then, depending on the body of water, we might have to pipe them in with a PVC hose, or a long hose made out of a black plastic material. Then we tilt the bed of the truck, lift up the screen, and gravity takes care of the rest. Once they’re stocked we stick around for a while to make sure their transfer response is good.”

According to a recent press release by the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, over 750,000 catchable size rainbow, brown and brook trout were stocked in Wisconsin waters throughout the state between fall of last year to the spring of this year coming from Osceola, St. Croix Falls and Nevin fish hatcheries. Because of the efforts of the hidden little hatcheries like the Osceola Fish Hatchery, natural trout numbers are supplemented each year creating healthier trout populations across the state.

“We’ve been raising fish here for a long time, but a lot of people don’t even know this is here,” said Osceola Fish Hatchery veteran, Vince Kobernick. “I know people that have lived here 20 years that said they never knew it was back here.”

Kobernick has been with the Osceola Fish Hatchery for more than 20 years, writing his own guide to managing the hatchery. His continuous dedication to raising trout for the State of Wisconsin has helped to maintain healthy populations that continue to put a smile on the faces of anglers state-wide.

“I’ve never met a man so dedicated to the craft of raising fish as him,” said Frazier. “He’s the real deal. He’s the reason we are where we are right now.”

Those interested in visiting the Osceola Fish Hatchery are welcome to visit the property at 2517 93rd ave in the Village of Osceola from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on weekdays but are encouraged to call ahead for guided tours at 715-294-2525.

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Vince Kobernick and Rachel Schoenecker spawn rainbow trout at the Osceola Fish Hatchery. Over 750,000 trout were stocked throughout Wisconsin in 2022-23. Some of those fish came from the Osceola Hatchery.Keep it Clean.PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.Don't Threaten.Be Truthful.Be Nice.Be Proactive.Share with Us.