The Branson/Tri-Lakes area is known for its fish. We’ve got a little bit of everything here in the waterways of the Ozarks; we have crappie, bass, trout, bluegill, catfish, paddlefish, gar, sucker, carp – you name it, it is most likely swimming around here somewhere. But unless you are an avid fisherman, it is unlikely that you will ever see any of these fishy friends in your time on the lakes and rivers. So if you want to get up close and personal with some fish – more specifically, trout – visit The Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, just on the other side of the Table Rock Dam, where there are some fishy goings-on that you certainly don’t want to miss!
The Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, located on the Lake Taneycomo side of the Table Rock Dam, is the very largest trout production facility within the Missouri Department of Conservation’s trout production program, which is designed to sustainably keep catchable trout within the waterways of Missouri. 1,125,000 catchable trout are bred, hatched, raised and released from the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery each year. The hatchery facility is built to handle all of the different phases and stages of trout production. After the brown and rainbow trout breeding stock have mated, the female trout stock will lay eggs. After she lays her eggs, the soon-to-be trout eggs are taken to the hatchery building, where they are incubated within jar style incubation units. After the eggs have hatched, the baby trout are reared indoors in the hatchery building in aluminum/fiberglass tanks. Once the trout have reached a mature enough age, they are moved outside to one of twelve concrete raceways and from there, the final rearing is completed in twenty raceways built for the big guys – the raceways are covered with large rolling hoop nets in order to keep hungry birds, such as herons, at bay. Once the trout are fully mature, they are discharged into Lake Taneycomo, where they will either swim happily away or wind up on the end of someone’s hook!
Visitors to the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery (over 250,000 every year!) can wander among the outdoor raceways and admire the trout. For a few quarters, folks can get a handful of trout feed pellets and toss them into the raceways for the fish – a glistening mass of shiny scales and splashing tails will follow as the trout all rush to gobble the food! Informational boards featuring photos of the trout and the entire hatchery process can be found at intervals around the raceway – so there is more to look at than just fish. Guided hatchery tours are available weekdays at 10am, 11am, 1pm and 2pm from Memorial Day to Labor Day – self guided tours are a year round option.
The trout are not the only attraction at the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery – though they are the main one. The hatchery boasts an information/nature center that is chock full of information about not only the trout, but the lakes and the other wildlife in the surrounding area. A large viewing tank that showcases some of the broodstock is a big draw to the nature center – you can get up close and personal with these fish and even take pictures! Other aquariums and tanks throughout the nature center hold critters like snakes, lizards and even a snapping turtle. There is also a movie viewing area where visitors can watch a short educational film about the hatchery and the trout production program. Four hiking trails are located just outside the hatchery – the beautiful scenery and some brisk exercise provide a nice change after meeting some fishy friends! If you decide you like the look of the trout and want to try your hand at catching some yourself, there are several fishing access points to Lake Taneycomo that are located near the hatchery.