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Jan. 29, 2020
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Families enjoy Buford Trout Hatchery


By Jane Harrison

Foot-long trout attack a bait fish and snap it up. Six-inchers nearly fly out of the water to catch a bite to eat. Fingerlings churn the water in a feeding frenzy. Lucky anglers might occasionally see action like this on Georgia trout streams. But one does not have to be a fly fisherman in the wilderness to watch hungry trout grab a meal like piranhas. About half a million trout of all sizes swim the raceways of the Buford Trout Hatchery where they put on a regular show.

Several families toured the hatchery on the Chattahoochee River downstream from Buford Dam on a February Saturday, about a month before truck loads of hatchery-raised trout were delivered to seasonal streams opening March 29. The regular 1 p.m. Saturday “matinee” offers the public a chance to learn about Georgia’s trout rearing and stocking program. The hatchery is also open daily for self guided tours, angling at a kids’ fishing pond, and walks on a nature/birding trail.

Georgia Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Technician Travis Taylor entertained onlookers last month with the fishy antics of more than half a million browns and rainbows growing in the raceways. Prior to hauling out a bucket of feed, Taylor cleared up a misnomer. The state trout stocking facility isn’t really a hatchery anymore. “We don’t actually gather eggs,” he admitted. The Buford outfit abandoned the laborious task of egg extraction and incubating to instead ship in thousands of 4-7 1/2 inch fingerlings. They plunge the small fry into a cold rectangular pool where they get fed by hand until they graduate to bins for bigger fish.

Taylor demonstrated how the ravenous fingerlings “beg like puppy dogs” for pea-sized feed pellets made of reconstituted fish. The tiny fish boiled up the water at the wave of an arm and snatched up the sprinkles released from Taylor’s hand. Children giggled with glee. They rejoiced even more when Taylor let everyone get hands full of pellets to throw in and dipped his net in to bring up writhing trout for close inspection.

The hatchery’s occupants get room and board, albeit in crowded quarters, before they are released into Georgia’s year round, delayed harvest and seasonal trout streams.  They thrive in the concrete bins filled with cold fresh water pumped from the river flowing from the bottom of Buford Dam. They consume about 1,000 pounds of feed per day and get liquid oxygen piped in.

Fish raised at the Buford hatchery have metropolitan or rural destinations, south on the Chattahoochee River, west as far as Cherokee County, and north into Dawson County. Taylor said fisheries workers regularly turn loose 12-plus inchers on the Chattahoochee River near I-75/I-285 and in Amicalola Creek at Steele Bridge Road in Dawson County in the delayed harvest program. This is a management strategy for catch and release Nov. 1-May 14, allowing the big fish to be caught more than once. From mid-May to the end of October, anglers can catch and keep the lunkers that may end up on dinner plates or attached to a trophy wall.

Fish travel by special truck from the hatchery in a half-ton of water and get piped or scooped out by net. Taylor said he’ll walk along a stream bank with a net full of trout and “throw ‘em in the water right over people’s heads … I haven’t hit anyone yet,” he quipped.

Several of the dozen or so people on Taylor’s tour had pulled in 12 to 14 inch browns on the Chattahoochee or Amicalola Creek. Cobb County resident David Watkins brought his 15-year-old-son Matthew and a friend to see the where their catch grows up. They planned to cast on the Chattahoochee upriver from the hatchery after the tour.

Four-year-old Sophia Richards was excited about seeing so many fish. “She loves fish,” said her mom, Leah Richards, who with husband, Josh, brought the little girl to the hatchery on a Valentine’s Day family outing.

Another preschool-age child, a rambunctious boy with a miniature tackle box, did not want to wait for the tour. His dad headed him straight to the kids’ fishing pond to try his luck.

Matt and Jennifer Strohmeyer, from Cumming brought their three children ages 2 to 7 to see the origin of their fly-fishing father’s favorite past time.

Bodhi Strohmeyer, 5, got a special treat as Taylor netted a big rainbow for him to touch. He squealed with delight at the glistening fish before it shimmied back into the water. No doubt he had a big fish story to tell his friends back home.

Visiting the Buford Trout Hatchery
  • Hatchery visiting hours: 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. daily
  • Pond and nature trail hours: 8 a.m.-3 p.m. daily
  • Free hatchery tours: 1 p.m. Saturdays
  • Self-guided tours available for school, scout, church and community groups
  • Address: 3204 Trout Place Rd., Cumming
  • Info: www.georgiawildlife.com/Hatcheries/Buford, 770-781-6888.
 
Posted online 2/27/15
 

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