GREAT FALLS — With summer in full swing, many Montanans and tourists alike are hitting Montana's waterways in search of a new personal best, but where do some of these fish come from?
Giant Springs Hatchery in Great Falls is one of the locations that produce many of the rainbow trout that can be found in Montana's central region. The fish start as eggs that are harvested from one of Montana's waterways and then get raised indoors at the hatchery before they get transferred into one of the hatchery's outdoor ponds to get even bigger.
Once it's time to stock the fish into a body of water, hatchery workers corral the fish in the tank and use a vacuum pump to get them into the back of a special Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks truck, to transport and plant the fish.
While the process seems easy, from start to finish, there's a lot that goes into ensuring the fish are healthy and ready before they can be stocked.
"Everything from knowing densities, from splitting fish out, so they're not too dense in the pond. So, that keeps the stressors down on them. To densities in planting them going into a truck. How much can you put in a truck. Growth," said Giant Springs Hatchery manager Ryan Derr. "There's a ton of variables that go into it. It's 24/7, there's somebody working here"
On Thursday, Ryan Derr and Ashley Hammans loaded approximately 1,760 pounds (~6,800 fish) and planted them at Riverside Campground, just south of Hauser Lake, and while the job can be tough when they hear about someone catching their fish and having a blast while doing it? It makes it all worth it.
"When you're out, especially doing this stocking, making people happy, and just getting feedback. Hearing they appreciate the fish that we're putting in and getting those pictures from biologists that have received pictures from folks that have been out fishing. Or when you're out, saying they caught, you know, the biggest fish that they've seen and knowing where they came from. It's a good feeling at the end of the day," said Hammans after emptying the fish from the truck.
Giant Springs produces approximately 700,000 fish annually and plans to plant 50,000 of them just south of Hauser lake through the Spring and Summer months and plant another 100,000 this fall.
With plenty of fish left to plant and catch this year, both Derr and Hammans agreed that people should grab a pole and get out on the water.
"Get out here, catch some fish. A lot of fish going in down here," said Hammons.
"Go buy your fishing license. Go fishing. Yeah, go fishing," said Derr.