A project that began with the spawning of 60,000 eggs a year and a half ago will end next month with the release of a raceway full of now-adult trout into Roaring River.
In other words, my trout parenthood is done.
Much like raising human babies — and now a little black lab puppy that is the newest addition to my family — parenting means growing impatient to achieve critical milestones: first tooth lost, first attempt to walk, first day of school.
Milestones in the trout world means developing eyes, becoming sac fry, graduating to bigger raceways.
The adventure began a few years ago when, making a cast on the bank of Roaring River, I wondered what it took to get the trout to the hole I was fishing.
Hatchery Manager Paul Spurgeon was willing to not just show me but let me participate every step of the way.
We began on a cold Feb. 13, 2013 — Paul’s birthday! — with the spawning process, which was more complicated, tedious and slippery than I ever imagined.
Every month or two, I made the two-hour trip from my home in Pittsburg, Kansas, to help hatchery crew with whatever was next: removing them from the incubator, moving them from raceway to raceway, checking mortality rates, measuring and weighing them and finally, moving them bucketful by bucketful up the stairs of the hatchery building and outside to large runs.
I came to have a great deal of respect for the staff and not just because they assured me they would take good care of my babies when I wasn’t around. They operate the hatchery 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are responsible for raising 250,000 fish each year in rain, sleet, sun and snow.
As we worked, they taught me about trout anatomy, physiology, economics, and the infrastructure and dedication it takes to ensure they grow to at least the 12-inch desired length necessary for release.
They were kind, patient, tolerant and most likely amused — particularly when it came time on March 1 this year for this skinny little gal to net 10,000 nearly full-grown trout from one run to another to give them more room. (My back still is recovering from that day.)
We enjoyed jokes about my “babies”. We also laughed trying to come up with names for all of them, trying to determine which of them looked most like me and what it would be like to try to get a good school portrait of each one.
And then my babies were grown.
Spurgeon contacted me earlier this month to let me know they were ready for high school graduation: It was time to let them go.
We agreed that the park’s annual “Back to School Kids’ Free Fishing Day” would be an appropriate time to do so.
On that day — Saturday, Aug. 16 — anglers under the age of 16 are allowed to obtain a free trout tag and participate in activities from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.
Among the youngsters who show up to try to catch my “babies” will be my own two human babies, now 9 and 13, who started life in child backpacks on the banks of Roaring River before graduating to large quilts spread out under the towering Sycamores as my husband and I fished.
Their milestone in recent years has been learning to ready their own hooks and net in their own fish.
The cycle continues.
Address correspondence to Andra Bryan Stefanoni, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802 or email email@example.com.