The rainbow trout has an interesting history in Missouri

Matthew Taylor and his father Shawn Taylor fish for wild rainbow and browns in the North Fork of the White River near Tecumseh, MO.

We are blessed here in Missouri because we have rainbow trout — a species more commonly found in the Rocky Mountains — in some of our Missouri Ozark streams.   

While some of those streams are periodically resupplied with hatchery-raised rainbows on an annual basis, there are a few streams, such as Mill Creek in Phelps County and Crane Creek in Stone County, that have what is commonly referred to as “wild trout” — meaning self-sustaining rainbow trout.   

Having “wild trout” is pretty cool, but the truth is that even our “wild trout” are not really native to Missouri.

The history of this 150-year effort to have self-sustaining wild rainbow trout in Missouri is frankly astounding and while it was not completely successful, it is laudable and should be respected.  

It all started in 1871. This was an inspiration of President U.S. Grant. He was concerned because streams along the Atlantic coast had become depleted of Atlantic salmon and other species of fish due to the environmental impact of the industrial revolution.   

So, in an effort to restore salmon to the eastern states in the U.S., President Grant created the first US Fish Commission and appointed Spencer Baird, a knowledgeable fisheries expert, to oversee this effort.   

Matthew Taylor and his father Shawn Taylor fish for wild rainbow and browns in the North Fork of the White River near Tecumseh, MO.

The idea basically was to catch Pacific salmon in California and ship them to the east coast to see if they could self-propagate.

Baird established the Baird Fish Hatchery in 1873 along the McCloud River in northern California. The original purpose was to ship salmon eggs from the Baird Fish Hatchery to the east coast via railcars to propagate salmon in various lakes and rivers.   

Unfortunately, this effort was not particularly successful because the salmon did not have a good survival rate on the east coast.   

However, it was soon determined that the wild rainbow trout that also thrived in the McCloud River had a much better survival rate when reseeded elsewhere.

Aas a result, a massive effort was begun to ship McCloud River rainbow trout eggs by rail to many destinations in the United States, including Missouri.

By 1888, the Baird Hatchery was in full operation, harvesting as many as 500,000 eggs per hour by catching live female trout, cutting them open and extracting the eggs inside.

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