Each year, Arizona lakes are stocked with fish. But have you ever wondered where all the fish come from? They come from hatcheries, one of which sits at about 6,500 feet elevation in the Tonto National Forest.
The Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery is a great place to escape the summer heat, and it's not far from a place called Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout, where you are guaranteed -- guaranteed! -- to reel in a fish or two.
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We'll start at the hatchery. There, you can learn about hatchery fish production and catch some wildlife. Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery produces and stocks hundreds of thousands of several types of trout.
[WACTH: Fun at Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery]
“We raise about 55,000 pounds of trout each year,” explains Bryce Sisson, who he heads up the operation in Payson. “We get our eggs Fed-Ex'd overnight, from other hatcheries, mostly from Montana. They're shipped in insulated boxes ... they hatch in 10 days.”
It takes 15 months from the time a fish hatches to when it's sent out for stocking.
You can take a self-guided tour to see all the fish and there’s also a small Visitor’s Center. The hatchery is open daily, 8 a.m.-4 p.m., except holidays.
To get there, head east out of Payson on Route 260 to Kohl's Ranch. Then turn north onto Tonto Creek Road and follow signs, about 4 miles, to the hatchery.
[MAP: Tonto Creek Fish Hatchery]
Tip: Kids love seeing the fish leap for food at feeding time, which usually happens between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m.
Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout
Have you ever gone fishing only to come home empty-handed? Well at Rancho Tonto Catch-A-Trout, you are guaranteed to catch something. It's nestled below the Mogollon Rim in Payson off Highway 260, about 20 miles east of town, and it's the perfect place to spend the day if you're looking for a place escape the summer heat in the desert.
The pond at Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout is usually stocked with about 2,500 to 3,000 fish. Visitors get a pole, bait and some help, if needed.
No need to bring anything but yourself, your family and maybe an appetite.
Owner Randy Slapnicka says you are guaranteed to catch something when you drop the bamboo pole in the water.
"We even clean the fish for you and pack it up, " he said. You'll pay $1 an inch for the all-inclusive experience.
Some visitors chose to stay and enjoy the lush property, which connects to numerous trails that take you through the Tonto National Forest. There's also a ramada for guests to enjoy where you can grill your catch.
"They can come up for the day, make a picnic of it, taste the fish if they don't want to take it back home," Slapnicka explained.
Rancho Tonto is also packed with history. The homestead was built in the late 1800s by Sam Haught, who built author Zane Grey's cabin about a couple of miles away.
In the '40s, '50s and '60s, it was a self-sufficient working farm. In fact, about 50 apple trees and 2 acres of blackberry bushes are still there.
To get to Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout, head 20 miles east on Route 260 from town. When you get to Kohl's Ranch, turn north onto Tonto Creek Road and follow signs.
[MAP: Rancho Tonto Catch-a-Trout]
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