Branson is home to the one-of-a-kind Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery, where 350,000-400,000 pounds of rainbow trout are produced yearly.
You would think a fish hatchery might be a dull place, but the truth couldn’t be more of the opposite. The Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery is an incredible educational experience that the whole family can enjoy. And best of all? It’s free!
Yesterday I headed to the fish hatchery, uncertain of what I would find. Naturally I assumed I would see a good number of trout but I had no idea just how many I would see. According to www.mdc.mo.gov, the hatchery is the Missouri Department of Conservation’s largest trout-rearing hatchery and now that I’ve been there I can better understand how many trout are really produced here.
Located right below Table Rock Dam, this educational facility provides guided tours weekdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day and guests can enjoy a self-guided tour the rest of the year. The hatchery includes a visitor center, complete with fascinating exhibits and displays of live animals, a 50-seat auditorium, sitting areas, hiking trails, a boat ramp with fishing access points on Lake Taneycomo and so much more.
Inside the visitors center, there’s an area where you can watch the trout swimming underwater and it’s incredible how big some of them are. The informative panels below the glass in the picture above feature a ruler so you can measure just how big the trout are as they swim by. I saw several that were a full 12 inches and even one that measured in at 14 inches!
Although the inside of the visitors center is great, outside is where the real adventure is. When you step out the back door of the center, you’ll come face to face with dozens of raceways, or 100-foot long pools of moving water. Each raceway’s total water content measures about 2 1/2 feet and guests can look down into each one and watch hundreds of trout swimming together. These raceways operate year round and house trout in different stages of growth. Water quality is very important at a fish hatchery, so the raceways are cleaned every two weeks and staff drain and power wash them.
At the Shepherd of the Fish Hatchery, you’ll be introduced to the complete process of breeding and stocking trout. It’s fascinating to learn how in just 16 to 20 months, trout are raised from an egg to the 11-inch fish that are released into Lake Taneycomo. Feed machines are also available outside so make sure to bring a few quarters so the kids can feed the fish. It’s a great way to interact with the wildlife of the hatchery.
If you’re looking for something fun and free to do in Branson, head to the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery for some quality, educational outdoor fun. The hatchery is just 10 minutes from the intersection of Highway 76 and Fall Creek Road near Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Theater.