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Willow Beach Hatchery’s return a bonus for Southern Nevada fishing

If you are one of the many anglers awaiting word that the Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery is back in the trout-rearing business, you can stop waiting. Three years after the loss of its cold-water intake system caused the hatchery to shut down its trout operation, the facility is again teaming with rainbow trout.

Those trout will be released soon at select locations along the lower Colorado River. When that happens, it surely will be a grand day for anglers and river communities alike.

The Willow Beach Hatchery was built in 1959 about 12 miles below Hoover Dam on the Arizona side of the Colorado River where it could use the dam’s cold tailwaters specifically to rear rainbow trout. Operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hatchery stocked as many as 175,000 rainbow trout every year at Willow Beach, in tailwaters below Davis Dam and waters on tribal lands located along the river.

Through the years, the fishing opportunity provided by those stocked rainbows attracted anglers from Las Vegas, Arizona, Southern California and other parts of the country. When those trout were no longer available, riverside communities dependent on fishing-related tourism felt the loss, and anglers mourned the loss of fishing opportunity.

But that is about to change because the hatchery has a new cold-water intake system and is back in business.

FWS spokesman Craig Springer said with its new water intake, the hatchery should plant 100,000 to 150,000 fish annually once the facility if back up to full production. That should make a noticeable impact in terms of tourism and angling opportunity along the lower Colorado.

The water intake system is the result of a collaborative effort involving the Fish and Wildlife Service, Mohave County, National Park Service and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. In addition, the project received significant support from the Arizona congressional delegation. A formal ribbon cutting ceremony was Oct. 20 to celebrate successful completion of the new water intake system.

“Our partnerships will pay dividends for the community and for conservation,” said Dr. Benjamin Tuggle, regional director of the service’s southwest region. “Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery once again fulfills its dual role of conserving endangered fishes and serving the angling public. Tribal partners along the lower Colorado River and the larger community that depends on recreational activities in the area also benefit.”

The FWS successfully tested the new floating intake in late July and followed with a final inspection on Aug. 4. Days later, the hatchery opened its trout raceways to 51,000 rainbow trout delivered by the Arizona Game & Fish Department. Once these fish are large enough, the FWS will begin releasing the fish in area waters, including Willow Beach, the tailwaters below Davis Dam, tribal waters and other locations farther downriver.

After tests of the intake system proved successful, Sen. John McCain of Arizona issued a statement that read in part: “I’m very pleased that USFWS has completed repairs to the water intake pipeline at Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery and trout-stocking operations are finally back up and running. After numerous discussions at the federal and local level, we were able to develop an affordable solution to moving these critical repairs forward and ensure trout stocking continues to support the economy in Mohave County. I want to commend USFWS, AZGFD, community leaders, and anglers and businesses for their important efforts, and look forward to seeing trout-stocking operations continue to have an tremendous impact on the local and state economy.”

The new water intake system cost $1.07 million, according to U.S. Rep. Paul A. Gosar of Arizona.

“I thank the service for contributing $688,000 for the pipeline restoration project in order to resume trout stocking,” he said in a statement. “However, the real heroes in this story are this community and the Arizona Game and Fish Department. The Arizona Game and Fish Department contributed $389,000 for these repairs … and has also generously agreed to provide about 60,000 5-inch rainbow trout.”

The hatchery expects to receive a batch of rainbow trout eggs this fall, and the hatchery will return to its former and familiar routine of raising trout from that earliest stage, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Freelance writer Doug Nielsen is a conservation educator for the Nevada Department of Wildlife. His “In the Outdoors” column, published Thursday in the Las Vegas Review-Journal, is not affiliated with or endorsed by the NDOW. Any opinions he states in his column are his own. He can be reached at intheoutdoorslv@gmail.com.

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