ROANOKE, W.Va. — There’s never been a lack of interest in West Virginia’s put and take trout program, but the man in charge of the state’s fish hatchery programs says he thinks a new initiative will peak anglers’ interesting. During the recent National Hunting and Fishing Day Celebration at Stonewall Jackson Lake Resort State Park, Jim Hedrick showed off the hatchery raised tiger trout.
“The tiger trout is actually a cross between a brook and brown trout. It can happen naturally where you have a lot of brooks and browns together spawning together. It doesn’t happen in West Virginia typically, but obviously in the hatchery you can control that. We would spawn a female brown trout with a male brook trout to get this particular hybrid.”
Some would say looking at the resulting markings instead of a tiger, it looks more like a leopard, but the unusual gray pattern is the allure of this unique looking cross breed, which is also sterile. According to Hedrick that’s a plus as well for West Virginia, since there’s no danger of impacting any native fish should the two ever encounter one another.
This isn’t a first in West Virginia. A few tiger trout were stocked in the 1960’s and the program was resurrected again in the 1980’s. The problem is it’s labor intensive and Hedrick said it takes a lot of man hours and meticulous attention to detail to produce the hybrid fish.
“They’re very difficult to raise, but we have a few back on stations and we’re looking to maybe as a novelty raise a few and stock them around the state in our larger streams,” he said.
The problems is the brook and brown trout have different numbers of chromosomes, one has 80 and one has 84. According to Hedrick when those don’t match up very well there’s a reduced hatch and a high level of mortality when the fish are very small and those dead fish must be constantly cleaned out of the hatchery.
“The staff has to pick all of those fish out of there, so it takes an extensive amount of time and a lot of care to get only a few fish,” he said.
But despite the difficulties, Hedrick and the DNR staff believe it’s worth the effort, particularly because they’ve gotten a boost from the neighboring Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries.
“They are raising and stocking them in Virginia and it’s a cooperative situation where they had eggs and a surplus which they were willing to share. Now we’re going to help do some experimentation on hatch and growth rates. We’re hoping to make it more feasible to in the future for states wanting to raise and stock these,” he said.
Along with the sample fish, sitting atop the tank at the National Hunting and Fishing Days display was a sizable, mounted tiger trout. According to Hedrick, it’s the unofficial world record.
“The reining world record came from Lake Michigan years ago and it was 20 pounds,” said Hedrick. “But we had some for several years in a tank at our Edray Hatchery which we kept just for display and for visitors to see. This one was about six years old and started to get to the end of its life span. So we had the fish mounted and it was 21 pounds, which would be a new world record if it had been caught on a hook and line.”