Bonanza expected to follow Willow Beach trout deal
BULLHEAD CITY - Rusty Braun, owner of Rusty's Riviera Marina, said anglers should soon be lining up for anchovies, artificial lures and more with hatchery-raised rainbow trout returning to the Colorado River.
"We're going to get people from all over the place again," he said.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Arizona Game and Fish Department finalized an agreement late last week to reopen Willow Beach National Fish Hatchery, a federal facility that stocked the river below the Hoover Dam.
The hatchery was damaged in August 2013 when a pipeline feeding water to its raceways became clogged, killing tens of thousands of rainbow trout. The pipeline later broke.
Braun said fewer people have been coming in to buy bait and tackle as a result.
"Other places were getting them, and we weren't anymore," he said. "It was upsetting to see that we'd been abandoned."
At an event Friday with state and federal officials, U.S. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said the break caused businesses in the area to suffer.
"This is a huge economic impact to this area," he said. "People come from all over the country and the world to fish for the trout here."
The agreement between state and federal agencies will bring back tourism and fishing dollars, McCain said.
"It's one of those rare stories where there's a real happy ending," he said.
Larry Voyles, director of the Arizona Game and Fish Department, said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will raise and truck in trout until repairs to the pipeline can be made. The work is expected to begin in September and wrap up by the end of next winter.
He said the agency will also supply the state with Apache trout eggs for 10 years in exchange for splitting the nearly $800,000 cost of repairing the pipeline.
"The total package was a real win-win for everyone involved," Voyles said. "At the end of the day, we're ready to resume operations, and that's going to be a good thing for this whole area."
According to the Arizona Game and Fish Department, fishing brings in about $75 million a year while supporting hundreds of jobs in Mohave County and Nevada's Clark County.
"The Colorado River is the lifeline for so many cities in the Southwest, including Bullhead," said Chris Cantrell, fisheries chief for the department.
Cantrell said the project will include a floating platform design so the pipeline won't dry up if the river level gets too low.
He said 18 months after the pipeline's completion, the hatchery will be ready to release trout.
"We're just really thrilled to ensure a long-term commitment to making sure trout are stocked in the Colorado River and people have the opportunity to go fishing," Cantrell said.
But Benjamin Tuggle, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's Southwest regional director, said the economic boon will be subtle at first.
"There'll be a lull because there will be a little bit that we have to do in terms of the maintenance." he said.
Tuggle said his agency is working on ways to address this lull, including growing bigger fish.
"It'll be a nominal drop until we can get back up to the point that we're raising fish from eggs to releasable," he said.
Braun, owner of Rusty's Riviera Marina, said he's already getting calls from all over the country from people wondering when and where the trout will be released.
"They'll call because people really love trout fishing," he said. "So this is going to have a great impact, not just for me but for all the little fishery areas and the places that sell bait and tackle."