This past Thursday, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission transported 15,800 brown and brook trout fingerlings from their Bellefonte Hatchery to the Lil’ Le-Hi Trout Nursery, located on Fish Hatchery Road in Allentown.
The latter is often referred to by many as the Lil’ Le-Hi fish hatchery, but it’s really not. A hatchery, by definition, hatches baby trout from eggs while a nursery receives the baby fish, feeds them and takes care of them while they grow to legal size to be stocked in area waters.
“These fingerlings eat three-five times a day,” said Jim Schneck, one of several volunteers at the nursery and a member of Pioneer Fish & Game Association. “We feed the fingerlings “baby food” – meaning fish meal that is processed ocean fish like herring and menhaden mixed with nutrients. Once they get larger they’re fed smaller fish pellets, then gradually move on to the larger pellets and the size folks buy here to feed trout. This is a favorite chore for kids visiting the nursery.”
The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission (PF&BC) says when the trout first hatch, they’re fed food pellets the size of black pepper flakes. As the fish grow and get bigger, so do their food pellets.
At the Lil’ Le-Hi Nursery, Schneck and other volunteers from local sportsmen’s clubs like Lehigh Fish & Game and others, pitch in to clean the raceways and tanks, and they grade, sort and separate the trout by size. This way the larger, more aggressive trout, don’t interfere (or eat) the smaller trout.
These new arrivals, claims Schneck, will average between 14-20 inches in two years after which they will be stocked in area waters.
This past March, the nursery had to destroy between 7,500-8,000, 14-20-inch rainbow trout due to gill lice. Because of that, rainbows were not in the mix delivered to the nursery.
Gill lice is a fish parasite or tiny crustacean that attach to the gills of trout and other fish. The lice look like tiny bits of rice and are found inside the gills. They then feed on the trout’s blood and can infect other fish in a stream. Despite the untasteful name, the PF&BC says trout with gill lice are not harmful to eat.
The Lil’ Le-Hi rainbow trout that were destroyed, hasn’t been the only incident of this problem. The first case was reported last fall in Center County when both stocked brook and wild trout were found to be affected. Others were found in Lancaster County stocked trout and during this past winter, some rainbow trout were caught in Deep Creek Dam in Montgomery County that were affected. Most of the affected trout came from a private trout hatchery, not from a state hatchery.
According to the PG&BC, gill lice can affect the trout’s breathing and will slow down the fish’s development. And it’s a shame, especially with annual trout stocking numbers declining, that the Lil’ Le-Hi Nursery had to destroy these sizable and colorful rainbows.
On a trout side note, and in a phone interview with Mike Kauffman, PF&BC fisheries biologist, he mentioned that trout will no longer be stocked in Leaser Lake. The reason. Few anglers are catching them.
We reported this in a previous column after talking to several Leaser anglers on opening day. At that time, not one trout was caught or even seen caught by anglers either from shore or boat. The anglers interviewed believe the huge muskies in Leaser ate the trout. Upon relaying this to Kauffman, he opined that it was unlikely because the lake is stocked a week before the opener, and muskies couldn’t have devoured over 1,000 trout in a week. So for the time being, Leaser will revert to catch-and-release bass, panfish and muskie fishing.
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Nick Hromiak has been an outdoors and automotive writer for over 30 years. He's been published in numerous national and state-wide outdoor magazines and newspapers.