West Virginians who fish for trout might catch something a little unusual this spring.
After a 15-year absence, tiger trout have returned to Mountain State waters. Division of Natural Resources officials began stocking them in early April, and plan to release about 25,000 within the next few weeks.
Jim Hedrick, the DNR’s supervisor of fish hatcheries, said tigers are back mainly due to popular demand.
“Since we stopped stocking them 15 years ago, one of the most frequent comments we’ve received is when we were planning to stock them again,” he explained.
“They’re a very pretty fish. They’re aggressive, they fight hard and they’re fun to catch.”
Tiger trout are hybrids, obtained by fertilizing the eggs of a brown trout with milt from a male brook trout.
Their basic coloration is similar to a brown, but instead of silver-haloed black spots, they have tan worm-shaped “vermiculation” markings on their backs similar to a brook trout. They also have white-edged dorsal fins like a brookie.
Producing them in a hatchery, Hedrick said, is a bit tricky.
“Browns and brooks have different numbers of chromosomes,” he added. “The chromosomes don’t match up perfectly. We can get the eggs to hatch easily enough, but when the larval fish absorb their egg sacs and transition to juvenile fish, they die off like gangbusters.”
Fisheries scientists in Virginia have discovered that putting the fertilized eggs under pressure helps create a third set of chromosomes. The resulting “triploid” tigers have much higher survival rates. West Virginia gets eggs for its tiger program from Virginia.
“The State of Virginia has no source of sauger sperm to produce saugeyes, which are a cross between a sauger and a walleye,” Hedrick explained. “Our section of the Ohio River has an abundance of sauger, so we set up a swap with Virginia — we send them sauger sperm, and they send us triploid tiger trout eggs.”
The hatchling tigers are reared at West Virginia’s Reeds Creek and Edray trout hatcheries, and are distributed as fingerlings to the Petersburg, Spring Run and Bowden hatcheries. Hedrick said the hatcheries have the ability to accommodate as many as 100,000 tigers.
“As a result, we’ll be producing fewer rainbow trout, but we think anglers will enjoy the variety the tigers provide,” he added.
So far, anglers appear to be enjoying the novelty of catching something different. Hedrick said photos of tigers have been showing up on social media sites ever since the first tigers were stocked.
“The response so far has been pretty positive,” he added. “Some of the fish we’ve stocked have been up to 4 pounds in size. A lot of those are going straight to the taxidermist because of their size, but also because they look so unusual.”
Hedrick said the tigers will be stocked in most of the state’s waters, but won’t be put in the Greenbrier, upper Gauley and upper Guyandotte watersheds because they might feed on candy darters or Guyandotte crayfish, both of which are on the federal Endangered Species List.