What’s going on at Bennett Spring Fish Hatchery
I’ve been hearing stories about at fishing at Bennett Spring: poor fishing, good fishing, low stocking numbers, fish washed out to the Niangua, remodeling in the hatchery, bringing stock trout from other hatcheries, and finally how it will be a year and a half before the fishing will be back up to par at BSSP. I asked Hatchery Manager Ben Havens to get us beyond the rumors. Here’s what he said.
“Bennett Spring is in the midst of a major multi-year hatchery renovation. This is a 3 year, 3 phase project of which the end result will bring new life to the antiquated hatchery. There are over 30 different line items that engineers and consultants have been tasked with investigating and finding solutions for during the project. This includes water supply/flow, water treatment, raceways design, water recirculation and hatchery flood protection. Work began last fall after season. We are currently through Phase 1 and have concluded all investigations and data collection of current hatchery layout and operation. This phase wrapped up shortly before opening day and we are currently moving through Phase 2 which is architecture and design. This phase takes into consideration all previous recommendations and provides design solutions to upgrade and improve our hatchery. This should wrap up this fall at which point the project will be ready to go out for bid so we can enter Phase 3, Construction. It is estimated that the construction will take approximately 2 years to complete.
First and foremost, we need to provide security to the hatchery. This applies to our fish stocks as well as our hatchery staff. The major component of the renovation will be the new hatchery water intake. This will look very similar to the intake screen at Roaring River. It will self-clean and will eliminate the need for staff to stand waist deep in water, raking clean the screens during floods. It will also insure that a debris-free flow of water is maintained for our fish not only during floods, but year round. This will be amazing for Bennett. We have been operating without any screen or type of debris filtration since January of 2020, when our hatchery intake screen was deemed unsafe and was removed from operation.
This leads me to address some of your concerns.
We are currently “remodeling” the hatchery. Therefore, it was determined that all our hatchery fish stocks would potentially have to be moved offsite to not only keep them safe, but also out of the way during construction. This is why many of our raceways are currently empty. We kept around 100k stockable trout on hand over winter and used those fish to begin the fishing season at Bennett. Most of the “Bennett” fish have been stocked out this season as of June 1st. We have since taken delivery of stocking size trout from Montauk hatchery and furthermore all of the fish you catch for the remainder of the 2022 season, 2023 season and beyond will come from Montauk until we are back in full operation.
We will continue to hatch eggs and raise trout fingerlings to about 4” during our normal fall spawning season. These fish will be harvested and trucked out to Montauk or Shepherd of the Hills for grow out to help supplement the cold-water hatchery system. So far this year we have raised and shipped out over 400k fingerlings from our hatchery building. These fish can’t be kept onsite due to the removal of our intake screen. So, if you see trucks coming and going, you now know where they are headed. The hope is that fishermen will not see many impacts from all the work that is happening during construction the next couple years. We will have empty raceways, and I realize this looks very different than normal, but we will always have some fish on hand to maintain operations and park stockings.
As I stated above, starting June 1st this year, the stocking fish going into BSSP are coming from Montauk hatchery. For the first 3 months of this season we utilized fish that were raised onsite here at Bennett. Hopefully, there is not a noticeable difference in fish between the parks, but there likely could be. I am told that the fish coming in from Montauk are the same fish they are stocking in their park. Since renovations are slated to be complete in late 2024/early 2025, Bennett will be getting fish from Montauk hatchery or possibly other MDC hatcheries until that time when we can go back into production here.
Fishing conditions and stocking numbers….. Fish are stocked at Bennett much the same as the protocol is at the other parks. Bennett by far gets more fish stocked within its stream than the other parks because we have much higher attendance or tag sales, than the other trout parks. Stocking is completed nightly March 1-October 31 and is solely based on avg. tag sales over the last 5 years or so. So far this season we have stocked out over 130K trout at Bennett. For the first few months of this season we have averaged well over the 12.5” length that we shoot for. Currently this week, the fish from Montauk we are stocking from is averaging 12.3” long.
As you know, the spring branch has been greatly impacted by flooding this year. During the second week of March we had our first significant flood, several small rises since, followed in May by the 3rd largest flood on record (9.79 feet) and as such, the water seems like it has been off color nearly all this season well into June. This has greatly impacted fishing success for many visitors. I have been told there are a lot of fish hanging in deeper water than usual. The May flood was significant and changed the stream quite a bit. So much so, we have not had to cut aquatic vegetation at all this season until this past week. Much of the vegetation was ripped up and washed downstream during the floods. The streambed is changed as well in many places. It is apparent that it also moved many fish from Zone 1 down into lower zones and ultimately the Niangua River. I have heard more good reports of fishing on the Niangua river this year than I have in the past 7 years I have been here at Bennett, including a lot of good brown trout photos. It will take some time, but the carryover fish in the park zones will slowly gain in numbers as more fish are stocked.
I hope this answers some of the questions you and others may have concerning Bennett Spring. Change is always hard at first, but in the end, the improvements we get at Bennett will help us to make it better than ever before. There may be some growing pains along the way, but I hope everyone will remain patient and supportive as we work through the next couple of years.
As always, I have an open door policy and welcome anyone to stop by my office at the hatchery and have a chat. You can also reach me at 417-532-4418 x1062. Thanks for reaching out directly for the information and not trusting everything you read on Facebook!”
Bennett Spring State Fish Hatchery
Fish Hatchery Manager