Fly fishers suck eggs – and that’s a compliment.
During the cold snap before Christmas, two dozen members of the Spokane Fly Fishers gathered in a small enclosure at the Spokane Fish Hatchery in north Spokane near St. George’s School.
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife hatchery workers seated each volunteer at a station that included a basket of 10,000 rainbow trout eggs in a trough flowing with clean, cool water from Griffith Spring. Using suction devices that look like turkey basters, the helpers carefully poked through the orange mass of delicate eggs and plucked out the whitish dead ones.
“If we don’t pick out the dead eggs, a fungus occurs and attaches to the good eggs,” said Cory Morrison, the department’s lead hatchery specialist.
During their half-day shift, the volunteers removed the culls from a batch of nearly 250,000 eggs that are already hatching into the fry that will be stocked in Washington lakes for upcoming fishing seasons.
Egg sucking, as volunteers gleefully call it, is one of several activities in which groups and individuals such as college science students, club members and senior citizens can assist the hatchery workers from fall through spring. Some sportsmen are scheduling time at the hatchery to help fulfill the state Master Hunter requirement for 30 hours of volunteer conservation efforts. Some volunteers help as the trained workers strip milt from sexually mature male trout and eggs from the females to begin the hatchery process each fall.
The Spokane Hatchery is one of three Fish and Wildlife Department trout hatcheries in Washington, and the only one in Eastern Washington. Of the 8 million rainbow eggs produced in Spokane, about 1.3 million will stay at the hatchery for stocking in this region. The rest will be trucked of to rearing facilities elsewhere in the state, Morrison said.
In addition to the 8 million rainbow trout eggs, the hatchery’s egg production for others species includes 100,000 brook trout, 300,000 cutthroat, 500,000 kokanee and 1 million tiger trout.
“Any more, we have needs for volunteers almost year-round, the exception being midsummer,” Morrison said. “We are short-staffed and we can’t hire temporary help.” Nevertheless, he noted, the hatchery still is taking on new programs. The new effort to collect kokanee brood stock from Sullivan Lake is just one more five-hour round-trip the workers need to fit into their schedule, he said.
“There are a lot of times, especially in the fall, when we get behind,” he said. “I could never express the gratitude for what the volunteers have given us.”
A simple thank you is apparently all the volunteers need.
“Sucking eggs is an annual event for our club,” said Dan Ferguson, Spokane Fly Fishers president. “We start with coffee and doughnuts and then work elbow-to-elbow all morning and then we get together for lunch. It’s a social event, yet we’re saving the hatchery 30-40 man-hours they can devote to other things at a busy time of the year.
“The hatchery has a mechanical egg separator but it doesn’t do as good a job as hand selection. You learn all sorts of things about raising fish when you’re out there.”
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