Learn Life's Cycle At Fish Hatchery

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A popular bumper sticker proclaims, "A bad day fishing is better than a good day in the office."

But anglers and non-anglers alike will have a good time visiting two fish hatcheries northeast of Payson. Both facilities, operated by the Arizona Game and Fish Department, are responsible for raising the trout released in local streams and lakes.

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A short jaunt off Highway 260 will take you by some wonderful campgrounds, as well as the Tonto Creek Hatchery.

Tonto Creek Hatchery is about 25 miles northeast of Payson at the end of Forest Road 289. Visitors follow the paved path at their own pace.

For most, the first stop is a feeding pond teeming with large trout. For a quarter, you can buy a handful of food pellets to toss in the water.

From there, the sloped road leads to a row of raceways -- long, narrow tanks of water -- where small trout are fed until they mature to a "catchable" size of 8 to 10 inches. Overlooking the raceways is a visitors center, which offers a colorful display of how the hatchery works.

The hatchery produces about 250,000 catchable trout each year. In comparison, a regular stream is capable of producing 225 catchable trout per mile, per year.

Damage from fires and floods and improved hatchery methods have changed the face of Tonto Creek Hatchery since it was built in 1935. Its purpose, however, has remained the same: to stock quality trout for the state's rivers, streams and lakes.

Fish from the hatchery are placed as far away as Lee's Ferry in the northern tip of Arizona and in Rose Canyon Lake near Tucson. The hatchery also supplies a number of other areas like Woods Canyon Lake, Bear Canyon Lake, Knoll Lake on the Mogollon Rim and Rainbow Lake, Scott's Reservoir and Show Low Lake east of the Rim.

A second and less well-known hatchery near Payson is the Canyon Creek Hatchery at the headwaters of Canyon Creek, 45 miles east of town.

Built in 1970, it is the most remote facility operated by Arizona Game and Fish. It relies on three springs, which deliver water to the hatchery and are used to run a hydroelectric power plant. A radio telephone system provides communications.

The forest near the hatchery includes old-growth, and is prime spotted-owl habitat. According to a hatchery brochure, bald eagles and osprey commonly circle the hatchery in winter, and sometimes dive down on unsuspecting fish. Kingfishers and heron are permanent residents because of the abundant food supply.

The hatchery produces about 300,000 catchable trout and 800,000 fingerlings annually. The fish are stocked in lakes and streams along the Rim and in the White Mountains. The closest site -- Willow Springs Lake -- is just 15 miles from the hatchery.

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