OAKVALE — The phrase “you can’t get there from here” might well have been written to describe West Virginia’s Tate Lohr Trout Hatchery.
Located in an isolated Mercer County hollow at the end of 5 miles of twisting, turning lane-and-a-half road, the state’s smallest trout hatchery nonetheless plays an important role in making sure southern West Virginia’s trout streams get stocked.
“If Tate Lohr weren’t where it is, our hatchery workers would have to put in some brutally long days,” said Mike Shingleton, the Division of Natural Resources’ assistant chief in charge of coldwater fisheries.
Six of the state’s seven trout hatcheries are located in the state’s eastern mountains, far removed from the streams and ponds of southern and southwestern West Virginia. Were it not for the Tate Lohr facility, built in 1979 and named for a former House of Delegates member, stocking runs to Logan, Boone, Kanawha, Raleigh, Wyoming and Cabell counties could take as much as 12 to 14 hours.
“I think all the waters stocked out of Tate Lohr are south of [Interstate] 64,” Shingleton said. “Even if we stocked those waters from Edray, the hatchery closest to that part of the state, we wouldn’t have enough people or hours in the day to get them all stocked.”
Though Tate Lohr carries the title of “hatchery,” no trout are actually hatched there. They’re trucked to the facility from other hatcheries and are raised to adult size.
“We actually don’t have any trout here during the summer,” said Calvin Redman, Tate Lohr’s superintendent since 1982.
“The last of our fish are stocked in May. The hatchery is more or less empty until very late July or early August, when we receive our allotment of 2- to 4-inch trout. We feed them and grow them until they’re ready to be stocked, usually in January or February.”
Redman estimates that he raises 60,000 to 65,000 fish a year, but that represents only about one-third of the fish that occupy the facility’s pools each season.
“Once all of Calvin’s fish are exhausted, usually in March, Tate Lohr becomes a transfer station,” Shingleton said. “We truck fish down there from our Reeds Creek and Spring Run [hatcheries] and hold them there until they’re ready to be stocked out.”
In a typical season, roughly twice as many fish are transferred through Tate Lohr than are raised there. Most of the fish are rainbows. Roughly 10 percent are golden rainbows, with some brown and brook trout thrown in for a few select waters.
It isn’t easy to raise and stock trout at Tate Lohr. Water problems sometimes limit the number of fish the facility can handle, and the tortuous route in and out of the hatchery makes life tough for the guys who drive the trout trucks.
Tate Lohr’s water supply comes from a spring-fed reservoir, but in recent years the spring’s flow has fallen off dramatically during midsummer.
Redman believes the spring has developed a secondary opening, one that bypasses the reservoir box. DNR officials are looking for ways to combat the problem.
“We’re looking maybe at putting in a small dam to trap the water that’s escaping, and then pumping the water back into the spring box,” Redman said.
The road, a bottleneck since the hatchery was built, is actually less a problem now than it used to be.
“It used to be a dirt road,” Redman said. “Now it’s chip-and-tar paved, but it’s still really narrow and winding. It’s 5 miles that feels like 55 miles when you have to drive it.”
Redman said he can still remember the first time he drove in to see the hatchery. “I was following another guy in here, and I honestly thought he was lost.
“I thought to myself, ‘There can’t possibly be a hatchery here.’ But then we got to the gate, and the road just seemed to open up.”
The road becomes especially troublesome in winter. Trout stockings start in January, but snowy conditions sometimes prevent Tate Lohr’s trucks from tackling the curving road that traverses two substantial hills.
“There are times when we have to call the Division of Highways to get them out here to plow the road for us,” Shingleton said. “So few people live on that road that it tends to be low on [Highways’] priority list.”
Even with all of Tate Lohr’s challenges, Shingleton believes it plays a key role in the state’s hatchery system.
“Having a hatchery in that part of the state makes all the other hatcheries’ jobs a little easier,” he said.
Reach John McCoy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-1231.