Over 5,000 trout swim in the ponds of the Fish Hatchery in Grayling MI. Part of the fun of visiting the hatchery is watching the water churn as the greedy trout fight for their share of the fish food which can be purchased for a small donation. The thousands of brook, brown and rainbow trout range from 2 1/2 to 28 inches in length.
Catching trout in one of the ponds is also permitted for a reasonable fee. The hatchery is open from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
Fish Hatchery in Grayling MI History
Shut down in the mid-60’s, the Fish Hatchery re-opened Memorial Day of 1983. By Labor Day, over 40,000 visitors had passed through the gates. Grayling Hatchery, Inc. operates the hatchery. Before it closed, the hatchery was run by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
The fish hatchery had its beginnings in 1914 when Rasmus Hanson obtained the property on the East Branch of the Au Sable River through timber rights. In 1916 he formed a group of outdoorsmen called the Graying Fish Hatchery Club. Rasmus served as President, and his wife Margrethe [for whom Lake Margrethe is named] was the secretary/treasurer. They sold $5,000 worth of stock certificates for operating funds.
The men who joined the club were among the first in Michigan to recognize the need to reinforce natural trout reproduction in our streams by hatching and rearing fish in protected ponds. Farsighted in recognizing the need for fish management and protection, the group dedicated themselves to supplying area streams with as many trout as possible. William B. Mershon, who was the club vice-president in 1920, was quoted as saying “that each and everyone of us will do our best to educate this horde of fishermen, they are not anglers, to put back the undersized fish carefully, to lecture them on yanking fish off the hook instead of taking them off gently. To do all we can to put a stop to forest fires, for we all know that the forest cover, the green stuff, is necessary to keep up the water supply and keep the trout streams cool to help shade the banks, and that verdure does furnish trout food in the bugs that feed thereon”.
During those years, wood planks lined the sides of the ponds to stabilize the banks. Visitors can still see some of the original work done by those pioneer trout planters.
Their original purpose was to save the nearly extinct Grayling fish, once prevalent in the AuSable River. While that effort failed, the Grayling Fish Hatchery club did succeed, and members continued planting brook and brown trout in the AuSable River system. They hatched and reared hundreds of thousands of fish until modern technology dictated they build new facilities to better guarantee proper water temperature and aeration.
After 10 years of operation, the hatchery was sold to the State of Michigan in 1926 for $10,000. It remained in operation until the late 1960’s when it was abandoned to lay dormant, gathering weeds, mud and debris.
In 1979, another Grayling Fish Hatchery Committee was formed, this time to pursue reopening the hatchery. After four years of letters, meetings and phone calls, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources issued a use permit in May of 1983 to the County of Crawford “for the purpose of reopening the facility as a tourist attraction to view adult populations of trout”. It was also agreed that the many ponds lined with concrete caused the water to warm, which was not beneficial to the trout.
In order to reduce the number of ponds, it was necessary to haul over 5,000 cubic yards of fill dirt to fill half the ponds. To complicate the problem, the filling of every other one meant hauling thousands of wheelbarrows of dirt around one pond to fill the next one. That problem was solved when the local unit of the Michigan National Guard adopted the task as a civic project. Not only did the guard supply many hours of volunteer time, but also called on its many technicians to engineer the vast undertaking. With this expertise, portable bridges were brought into use to span open ponds to reach the ones to be filled. The guardsmen operated small front-end loaders inside the ponds to clean out sludge which had accumulated over the years. Massive five cubic yard loaders were utilized to fill the many trucks which transported the fill from a local sand hill to the hatchery.
4890 W. North Down River Road
Grayling, MI 49738