SPICER -- This week in our "Behind the Scenes" series on WJON, we head out with the Minnesota DNR to help repopulate the area lakes with fish.

Consider them natures middle man when it comes to making sure area lakes are stocked with fish.

Fisheries Technician Barry Flanders has been working with the DNR for 30 years collecting fish to bring back to the hatchery.

"The percentage that hatches in nature is very low. I've heard numbers anywhere from 3-5% and last year the eggs that we took back to the hatchery we had about 60-75% hatch," says Flanders.

Early in spring crews set out on the lakes checking nets and collecting a small percentage of fish ready to spawn.

"What we are looking for out here is the females to see if they're ripe. If they are ready to give their eggs, those are the only ones we take back and we usually take two males for every female for spawning purposes," says Flanders.

When they have their limit, the fish are loaded in the trucks and brought back to the hatchery where Hatchery Manager Jeff Tellock says the eggs are collected to fertilize.

"We squeeze the belly of a few females gently and the eggs will flow into a dry pan and after that we repeat the same process with the males," says Tellock.

The fertilized eggs are then mixed in a clay solution before they are put into trays overnight to go through a process called water-hardening.

"If we let them water-harden for several hours they absorb the water and become tough and we can handle them without damaging them," says Tellock.

The eggs are then taken from the trays disinfected then put into containers to hatch.

After a few weeks in incubation the eggs begin to hatch, which Flanders says the fish are brought back to the lake or divided into other lakes.

"We will bring 10% of the fish we took from the lake back into the lake and it helps us with other area lakes that don't have natural reproduction so we can stock fish in those," says Flanders.

The DNR has about a 4-10 day window to collect the fish before spawning season is over.

Barry Flanders (top) separates the males and females they collected in their nets to take back to the hatchery. (Photo: Alex Svejkovsky, WJON News)