Paul L. Hayden / Lake Superior Magazine
Les Voigt State Fish Hatchery
The Les Voigt State Fish Hatchery, opened in 1897, is named for a longtime director of the state Conservation Department credited with doubling the number of state parks during his tenure.
If you think fish lead boring lives, you need to visit the Les Voigt State Fish Hatchery on Highway 13 just outside Bayfield. Did you know, for instance, that fish eggs don’t need water? They can be incubated as long as they’re kept cool and moist. Once they hatch, though, the little fry do need water to breathe through their gills.
The hatchery folk know a lot about fish babies and are delighted to share their knowledge. To stock Lake Superior, the hatchery produces about 150,000 brown trout, 90,000 splake and 90,000 lake trout each year. It also attracts a lot of visitors – 5,000 to 7,000 annually. The visitor center is open 365 days a year, even Christmas.
The impressive 1897 brownstone building first catches your eye on the grounds. It is still used to rear fish, but the newer structure, built in 1974, now holds the main rearing tanks and the educational exhibits open to visitors.
As you enter, a 4,000-gallon aquarium showcases the fish being reared: splake, brown trout, lake trout and chinook salmon. Exhibits tell about water quality and exotic species in Lake Superior and St. Louis River – “ship stowaways, escapees and invaders” that dramatically affect the Great Lakes, tributaries and inland fisheries.
Hatchery supervisor Darren F. Miller has fielded tons of fish questions over the years. Both kids and adults wonder how eggs are collected. “We actually go out and set gill nets on the shoals of the Apostle Islands,” Darren says. “A lot of areas are within our fish refuges that we’ve created out there, and as the adults swim back to the shoals to spawn, we intercept them.”
He also explains that one reason the hatchery keeps the lights turned off in the rearing areas is to provide a low-stress environment; stress can kill fish.
Perhaps the most eye-opening fact involves how long a lake trout can live. Most visitors guess 5 to 6 years, but the truth is closer to 60 years.
You can see all stages of fish life at the hatchery. Darren suggests a winter visit, when the larger fish are still there until spring and the eggs and fry are in incubators. So you can catch a look before they are released.