Although I attended high school in Shasta County just eleven miles from the Coleman National Fish Hatchery, I never paid it a visit, an oversight I recently corrected. My husband and I made the trek through the oak-studded hills east of Anderson to the largest salmon hatchery in the U.S. and discovered a hidden gem.
Following a stop at the information kiosk, we started our self-guided tour in the incubation room, where the 13-14 million Chinook salmon and 600,000 steelhead trout raised at the facility begin their lives. One of the twenty-four employees, fish culturist Rob Barker, gave us a peek at the 5,000+ hatchlings, or sac-fry, from just one female. Those little ones were really jumping!
The adjoining nursery, with its many feeding troughs, houses the baby fish. When the fry are large enough, they’re moved outdoors to the raceways, where they continue to mature. Three months to one year later, depending on when they’re hatched, the smolts are ready for release into Battle Creek, at the southern edge of the hatchery.
Each fall, about one percent of the fish raised at the hatchery in the two to four previous years will return to Battle Creek. The eggs are harvested and fertilized in the hatchery’s spawning building, and the process begins anew.
The Coleman National Fish Hatchery is open to the public daily from 7:30 am to 5:30 pm. Around 10,000 of the hatchery’s 50,000 visitors each year show up for the annual Return of the Salmon Festival on the third weekend in October. According to employees, you’ll avoid the crowds and have better views of the fish if you visit the week before.
The well-maintained grounds at the hatchery include an attractive tree-covered picnic area, so you could enjoy a picnic lunch. I recommend allowing time to walk a portion of the neighboring Battle Creek Salmon Trail, where you’ll enjoy the scenic duck habitats, a birdsong concert that can’t be beat and get a great view of Mt. Lassen in the distance. A California Department of Fish and Wildlife Lands Pass, available online, would be required for those who venture into the Battle Creek Wildlife Area.