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A Fish's Story...

“Science deals exclusively with things as they are in themselves; and art exclusively with things as they affect the human sense and human soul.”

John Ruskin

(philosopher, writer, art historian)

rainbow trout

If a particular fish is caught in the colder waters of northern New Mexico, it might be by virtue of the millions of eggs shipped, sorted, disinfected, reared and released. While her colors are slightly more muted than her wild counterparts, this rambunctious little fish grew to an impressive ten inches in less than a year.  Her nontraditional gift of life came with help from a tender human hand at Los Ojos Hatchery in Los Ojos, New Mexico.

Situated quietly in the town of Los Ojos, just 15 miles south of the Village of Chama, the hatchery was constructed in 1932 and can be found on the state’s historic register. Los Ojos Hatchery is one of 6 state fish hatcheries in New Mexico and produces hundreds of thousands of catchable fish per year, stocking waters statewide.

Los Ojos Hatchery was forced to close in March of 2005 when whirling disease was discovered in some of its fish population. It remained closed for 4 years while the facility was disinfected and eventually underwent a 2 million dollar renovation to ensure that all possible sources of infection were controlled.

Whirling disease (Myxobolus cerebralis) is a microscopic parasite that feeds on the cartilage of infected salmonids causing skeletal deformities, a blackened tail and a distinct corkscrew swimming behavior. It is ultimately fatal to the fish. Whirling disease is believed to have arrived from Europe in the 1950’s and persists today transmitted often by raccoons, waterfowl and potentially even osprey. The outdoor raceways where fish grow in size are now protected with a covered structure as a measure of prevention against future outbreaks.

Los Ojos Hatchery


A recent early spring day found me releasing one after another--silver and pink sided rainbow trout. The weather was moody but the blue-winged olive mayfly hatch was on and a size 16, pale grey, blue-winged olive dry fly was doing the trick. The fish were all quick to strike the fly as it meandered curiously through the seams above them, making the day an exciting escape from what still felt very much like winter at home.

triploid rainbow trout

All of the fish that I caught that day were hatchery raised, female, triploid rainbow trout. Fisheries biologists and managers use the triploiding process to sterilize the fertilized eggs of (in this case) non-native rainbow trout. Because the demand for sport fish needs to be balanced with native species management (in this case Rio Grande cutthroat trout), the triploiding process allows mangers to release sterile female fish into the ecosystem without risk of diluting native fish genetics. Despite their current widespread range across the United States, rainbow trout are not native to New Mexico and outcompete native cutthroat species for food resources in addition to hybridizing the native fish.

Los Ojos Hatchery

Los Ojos Hatchery continues to operate producing and stocking fish throughout the state. The hatchery remains closed to the public until the visitors center can be renovated to improve safety concerns in the 82 year old stone building. Fish at the facility must be fed 6 to 10 times per day, depending on their growth stage, each and every day of the year.  The spring-fed pools stay a consistent 49 degrees year round allowing for the most optimal trout conditions. Those ideal conditions and a lot of hard work allow the hatchery to consistently produce greater numbers of fish as well as larger sized fish for anglers than ever before, even releasing some fish in excess of 18 inches and weighing over 3 pounds. In addition to triploid rainbow trout, Los Ojos Hatchery also raises yy male brook trout*, is participating in yy male brown trout studies as well as raises and stocks Kokanee salmon for New Mexico lakes.

After touring the hatchery, and while researching source material for this piece, I was drawn to the artful impact of something as humble and often disrespected as a hatchery fish. On a chilly morning last fall, my client slowly and reluctantly opened his hand allowing a delicately spotted rainbow trout to slip away into the current before once again settling safely behind a rock. Although he was a lifetime angler, he had dreampt for years of fly fishing in the mountains. The man turned to me and quietly announced that he had waited 68 years to hold that single extraordinary fish. This was his first fish caught on a fly rod, a fish that he would always remember, a fish that was raised at Los Ojos Hatchery.

How do you feel about triploid trout as a management tool or about catching "stockers"....let me know your thoughts!


*You may recall a previous blog post about the Trojan fish. The Los Ojos Hatchery continues to raise the Trojan brook trout locally. If you haven't read that blog post, please do!

**An edited version of this fish story was originally published in the May issue of the Rio Chama Reporter. Thank you for reading.

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