Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery
Southeast Region


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Who We Are: Our Mission, Goals, and Geographic Area

Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery was constructed in 1975. This is one of the most recently constructed hatcheries in the federal hatchery system.

This station currently produces approximately 1,000,000 rainbow, brown, and brook trout weighing 275,000 pounds annually. In cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, fish are stocked into 120 different public fishing waters in the state. No private waters are stocked. The majority of the fish are stocked in waters controlled by the federal government.

Station Goals

1. Provide rainbow, brown, and brook trout for mitigation stocking in Kentucky and Indiana.
2. Provide rainbow and brown trout to the Commonwealth of Kentucky (state management goals) under a reimbursable agreement.
3. Provide a refuge for threatened or endangered aquatic species and develop techniques required to culture these species.
4. Assist Tribal governments in managing fisheries resources on Tribal lands by providing rainbow and brown trout.
5. Implement a thorough, perennial hatchery product evaluation program.
6. Maintain Visitor/Environmental Education Center.
7. Provide environmental education.
8. Develop and maintain partnerships with chambers of commerce, tourist commissions, Trout Unlimited and other agencies to promote regional support for the fish hatchery.
9. Maintain a “Friends Group” to gain community support for the fish hatchery.

Geographic Area Covered

  • Cumberland River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Lake Cumberland/Tailwater (TW), Martin's Fork Lake/TW, Laurel River Lake/TW.
  • Kentucky River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Buckhorn Lake/TW, Carr Fork Lake/TW.
  • Green River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Nolin River Lake/TW, Rough River Lake/TW, Barren River Lake/TW.
  • Licking River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Cave Run Lake/TW.
  • Little Sandy River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Grayson Lake/TW, Yatesville Lake/TW.
  • Big Sandy River Basin, KY (mitigation) - Dewey Lake/TW, Fish Trap Lake/TW, Painstville Lake/TW.
  • Whitewater River Basin, IN (mitigation) - Brookville Lake/TW.
  • Kentucky lake and streams (reimbursable agreement).
  • Cherokee Indian Reservation, Cherokee, NC


What We Do

This is a National Fish Hatchery which is administered by the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and is supported by your Federal tax dollars. Fish raised on Federal hatcheries are stocked in public waters to support Federal fishery responsibilities mandated by law. These include fish for mitigation where, for example, man-made dams have altered a stream’s natural reproductive capability; to recover threatened or endangered populations; to restore interjurisdictional fish populations, or to support depleted recreational fish populations in Federal and state waters.

Over a century ago, it was recognized that conservation measures were necessary to maintain good fishing in our public waters. Fishing has always been one of America's leading forms of outdoor recreation. The primary responsibility of the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery is to raise rainbow, brown, and brook trout which will help preserve this tradition for present as well as future generations of Americans.

Construction of a dam, regardless of its type, alters the entire environment within a river. The first and most obvious change takes place when the reservoir fills, but many changes may also take place below the dam. Some of them might be subtle, and others, like those in the Cumberland tailwaters, might be quite drastic.

Wolf Creek Dam produced a large, deep reservoir in which the water stratifies into temperature layers during the summer and fall months. The water released into the Cumberland River comes from a deep, cool layer. It caused a loss of the original warm water fish habitat and replaced in with the present cold tailwater.


How We Do It

Spawning operations are not conducted at this station. However, Federal hatcheries in Tennessee, West Virginia, Wyoming, and Montana hold adult trout (broodstock) which are spawned artificially. After the eggs are taken and fertilized, they are held at the station until they develop to the eyed egg stage. Then the eggs are shipped overnight to production hatcheries like Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery to hatch. When the station receives eggs, they are disinfected to prevent spread of fish diseases. They are counted using volume metric displacement and then placed in the hatching jars.

Eggs hatch approximately 10 to 14 days after they are placed in the hatching jars. The fry are then transferred to the rearing tanks where they remain another 10 to 14 days until they absorb their yolk sacs. As the yolk sacs are absorbed, the fry swim to the water surface and are fed specially formulated feed hourly. When the young fry reach approximately 2 inches they are called fingerlings. When the fingerlings grow 2-3 inches they are moved to the outside raceways where the larger fish are kept.

Fish Production

Rainbow Trout (mitigation/reimbursable)

  • 13,700 lbs. - 10,000 fish at fifteen inches
  • 9,050 lbs. - 13,100 fish at twelve inches
  • 50,000 lbs. - 119,800 fish at ten inches
  • 155,000 lbs. - 493,075 fish at nine inches

Brown Trout (mitigation/reimbursable)

  • 2,100 lbs. - 3,000 fish at twelve inches​
  • 9,000 lbs. - 43,150 fish at eight inches
  • 15 lbs. - 450 fish at four inches

Brook Trout (mitigation)

  • 12,200 lbs. - 40,000 fish at nine inches
  • 4 lbs. - 300 fish at three inches


Economic Impact

The direct economic benefit of fish produced at the Wolf Creek NFH to the Kentucky economy is $50 million annually. The indirect benefit is estimated at over $75 million in 2007.



A brown trout fingerling in an outstretched hand.

Brown trout. Photo by USFWS.

A school of brightly colored red, yellow and brown trout with pinkish spots

We began production of brightly colored brook trout in 2011, and we stock them in the Cumberland River. Photo: USFWS.

A hand displays a few eggs over a mesh net filled with more oragey-red trout eggs
Although they may look fragile, these trout eggs are sturdy to the touch. Bouncing like a rubber ball if dropped on the ground, each holds a new trout-to-be upon hatching. Photo: USFWS.

A man stands in water looking into a plastic bag of minnows while three others stand on the bank watching
Project Leader James Gray and Deputy Project Leader Sheila Kirk, releasing some Barrens topminnows into a spring head. Photo: USFWS.

Last updated: May 18, 2018