September 2006

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Worth A Visit: Page Springs Hatchery

By Mike Brookes

Nestled in the high-altitude desert between Cottonwood and Sedona, adjacent to Oak Creek, lies one of the most state-of-the-art fish hatcheries operated by the Arizona Game & Fish Department.

On a recent visit, I met with Cindy Dunn, a department employee, who kindly gave me valuable information about the Page Springs facility.

Page Springs was aptly named because an underground (artesian) stream flows out of the hillside at an amazing rate. Over 15 million gallons of water (180 gallons per second) flow daily at a constant temperature of 68 F.

Although the Page family homesteaded the area and used the spring water to irrigate their farmland, using a canal ó some of which still exists today ó the lure of the pure water prompted the establishment of a fish hatchery in 1932, encompassing 116 acres.

Initially the fish were reared in earthen ponds. By the 1950s, the output was 50,000-80,000 trout per year. This figure gradually grew to about 400,000 per year in 1990.

The year of renovation was 1991. State-of-the-art cement raceways were built. This, of course, was a fantastic improvement, but there was still the fish-eating bird problem.

Avian depredation used to take 30 percent of the fish, but now the covered raceways have minimized the loss. The hatchery is now capable of producing 1.2 million fish per year.

The main species raised here is rainbow trout. This species was introduced to Arizona in the late 1890s from the Pacific Northwest.

It is one of the most popular sportfish and is found in most of the stateís cold-water lakes, streams, and rivers. The majority are reared in hatcheries to between 9-11 inches before being stocked.

To start, the hatchery receives 3-inch trout from the Sterling Springs facility, which receives eggs from all over the United States. It takes nine to 12 months and lots of care to get the fish to releasable size.

The hatchery does not restrict itself to rearing trout. Crappie, red ear sunfish, bass, and native fish are also raised in the bubbling pondís warm-water section. Colorado squawfish, razorback suckers, and humpback chubs are the endangered species also reared in the bubbling-pond section.

(This unique spring also hosts an endangered species of snail that is found nowhere else in the world.)

So, where do the fish from Page Springs Hatchery end up? They are stocked from Lees Ferry in the north, to Concho Lake, Big Lake, Becker and Luna lakes in the southeast, to Pena Blanca, Patagonia, and Parker Canyon lakes in the south, to Alamo and Lynx lakes in the west, and to most rivers, streams, and lakes inside that perimeter.

If youíre in the area, stop by and take the self-guided tour, then feed the specimen fish in the special observation pond. Hatchery hours are 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily.

A visit will help you appreciate what AZGFD does to create better fishing in Arizona. The kids will love it, and itís free!