Northern Wisconsin Fish Hatchery Celebrates 100 Years

Tommy Thompson Hatchery Produced 68 Percent Of Walleye Stock Last Year

The primary focus of the Tommy Thompson fishery today is growing walleye fingerlings. Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie (CC-BY).

One of the largest fish hatcheries in the state, the Tommy Thompson hatchery in Spooner, will celebrate its 100th year in operation on Friday.

State biologists began raising sport fish in Wisconsin in the late 1800s. In 1914, the Department of Natural Resources built its Spooner fish hatchery, which would grow to be one of the largest in the state.

A lot has changed in the field of aquaculture since then. Neal Rosenberg, who supervises the hatchery, said in the early days the DNR used rail cars that had to be filled by hand to transport young walleyes, muskies and northern pike around the state.

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“Nowadays we use 5-gallon buckets and trucks and stainless steel distribution tanks,” said Rosenberg. “So we’ve come a long way in 100 years.”

Other technology has evolved too. Traditional thermometers used to keep track of water temperature; now automated, computer-controlled systems track temperature and water chemistry, which are vital to producing healthy fish.

The focus on fish species has also changed. Rosenberg said they used to stock walleye fry, which are about the size of a mosquito, along with muskies and northern pike. Now, he said, the focus is on growing walleye fingerlings around 6 inches long.

“We raised about 280,000 fish here last year, which is an all-time new record for us,” he said. “That actually equaled about 68 percent of the walleyes stocked in the whole state.”

In total, Rosenberg said the Spooner hatchery has stocked nearly 900 million walleyes, 23 million muskies and 22 million northern pike.

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