When you’re an employee at the Farlington Fish Hatchery, everything you do centers around fish.

When you’re an employee at the Farlington Fish Hatchery, everything you do centers around fish.
“We are fish farmers, fish doctors, fish chauffeurs, and we smell pretty fishy most of the time,” said Randy Nelson, hatchery manager.
The other two full-time employees are Dan Mosier II and Tim Ellis, fish biologist specialists. There’s also a six-month temporary employee during the busiest part of the season.
The hatchery is located in Crawford State Park. Construction on the facility started in 1939, was interrupted by World War II, and was completed shortly after the war.
There’s an office facility and “fish house” used for hatching, sorting and holding fish, plus 30 earthen ponds which provide more than 32 surface acres of water, which is supplied by Crawford State Fishing Lake.
“Those ponds are like our fields, and our crop is fish,” Nelson said.
Tiny baby fish are placed in the pools, grown to suitable size, then the ponds are drained and the fish are harvested. On Friday, fishery staffers were harvesting a pond filled with saugeye, which is a hybrid between a sauger and a walleye.
“Five weeks ago those fish were microscopic,” Nelson said. “You could have held 100,000 of them in your two hands.”
Mosier said that the babies are sub-sampled from time to time to keep track of their growth.
Timing is crucial. By the time the babies grow to about an inch and a half long, it’s time to harvest them. Otherwise, this crop will start eating itself.
“When they get that big, their brothers and sisters start looking pretty good to them,” Nelson said. “We took around 60,000 saugeye out of that pond today. If we left them there another month, we might have 500. We don’t raise them big, but we raise a lot of them.”
Fish species raised at the hatchery include walleye, saugeye, striped bass and striped bass hybrids, channel catfish, blue catfish, hybrid sunfish, redear sunfish and grass carp. Other species are available on demand.
Nelson said that Rob Friggeri, district fish biologist, assesses the fish population and request lists given in December.
“In January the hatchery managers get together and talk about what can we do, how many fish can we raise,” Nelson said. “We have to pick and choose what we can and can’t do.”
The busy season starts around mid-March and extends to November, with each species being brought in, placed in ponds, raised to appropriate size then harvested.
“We’re finishing the spring season now,” Nelson said. “We’ll be getting the blue catfish next week, and the channel catfish will come in mid-June from the Pratt Hatchery.”
Fish come in the hatchery, and they go out again. After being harvested, they are kept in the fish house until hatchery staff transport them to their new homes.
“We’ve probably shipped about 450,000 fish out just this week,” Nelson said Friday. “They go all over Kansas, to the Hillsboro Reservoir, Milford Reservoir, Council Grove Reservoir and to small lakes by the score, Bourbon State Fishing Lake and so on.”
Tours of the hatchery can be arranged by calling 620-362-4166, with April and June the best times to find a variety of fish in the fish house. Since the fish are raised in the ponds, they are usually not readily viewable.
“We get people coming in who’ve been to trout hatcheries where you can put a quarter in a slot, get fish food and feed the fish,” Nelson said. “That’s not what we have here.”
After the busy season ends with the harvesting of the catfish in November, staff members do maintenance work and, just maybe, get a little time for vacations.
So what does Nelson, who’s been at the hatchery since February 1977, like to do when he’s not at work?
“I love to fish,” the manager said. “I go fishing whenever I can.”