March 16, 2010

Stocking brook trout Inland Fisheries and Wildlife workers are busy with the spring release program

— Jarod Hjort of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife tipped the net and let about 10 mature brook trout tumble into the Presumpscot River. Then he headed back to the truck for more. Hjort and his partner Carlton Bryant stock brook trout all over southern Maine that began as eggs at the Dry Mills Fish Hatchery in Gray. These days, it's not uncommon for them to hit a half-dozen bodies of water on any given day.

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Bryant hands off trout to Hjort at the river.jpg

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Hjort loads mature 'brood stock' trout into the truck at the hatchery.jpg

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There were more than 250 brook trout in the truck this particular afternoon: some 44 brood stock, which are mature fish that have fulfilled their breeding cycle, and about 220 spring yearlings measuring about 8 inches long. The 2-year-old brood stock measure about 16 inches long. Anglers will be proud to see the fish at the end of their lines.

Earlier in the day, fish culture supervisor Greg Bell was looking over the fish at the hatchery. ''Those will be available for fly fishing this afternoon,'' he said.

Bell logs each day's information. ''Stocking reports are now available online,'' he said. ''I just entered what we stocked this morning. It will be available first thing tomorrow.''

The online stocking report is new this season. Anglers can now log on to where waters in every county are listed alphabetically. Information regarding species, quantity and size stocked is available.

The hatchery at Dry Mills raises only brook trout.

''This facility was constructed in the 1930s under Roosevelt,'' said Bell. ''They picked the perfect spot for raising brook trout.''

The location is ideal because the waters at the hatchery are spring-fed. The 50-degree water is just right for brook trout. And the natural spring does not freeze, allowing the hatchery to continue working year-round.

Stocking is done twice a year, during spring and fall when area water bodies are about the same temperatures as the hatchery spring. April to mid-June is typical for the spring stocking schedule.

''We try not to stock if there's more than a 10-degree difference,'' said Bell, explaining that a greater water temperature discrepancy can shock and potentially kill fish.

This day the crew was stocking the Presumpscot River where it crosses Route 35 along the border between Windham and Standish -- a popular fishing spot this time of year.

But before they left for the river, it was time to gather trout from the holding tank: a big concrete swimming pool. Carlton Bryant, a 30-year department veteran, donned a pair of waders and got into water a little over knee-deep. Starting at one end, Bryant grabbed a long framework of wood and mesh that spanned the width and depth of the tank. He then walked, corralling the fish toward the other end where the truck was waiting: a one-ton stake body fitted with a 150-gallon aluminum tank.

With about 2 feet left until the end of the holding tank, Bryant wedged the framework in place and grabbed a net. In about eight or 10 scoops, he passed 220 healthy brood stock to his partner, Hjort, who dumped them into the truck's tank. Then it was off to the river.

The parking lot was empty when the crew arrived. The truck's tank has two compartments, one had brood stock and the other held the yearlings. The brood stock were the first to be set free. This time Bryant stayed on the truck and Hjort had the honors of repeatedly walking the nets of fish down to the water's edge.

It wasn't long before folks started rubbernecking as they drove over the Route 35 bridge, seeing two-pound brook trout being released. Joel Eastman of Portland pulled in to get a closer look.

''This is the first time I've ever seen them putting fish in,'' said Eastman, who once fished with his father as a kid all over southern Maine. Eastman is a supporter of the department's stocking efforts.

''It's very exciting,'' he said. ''I was just driving by. I saw that truck and spun around.''

Eastman wasn't the only one. Brian Howland of Limerick, a painter, knocked off early this day, saying he comes to this fishing spot often.

''Right now, you can come here just about any night and catch a couple brookies,'' he said.

Howland was pleasantly surprised to find his arrival coincided with the stocking truck.

The stockers soon finished their work and headed back to the hatchery. Plain as day, the newly deposited fish were still hanging around the rocks and acclimating themselves. Howland put on a streamer fly and got to work casting.

He has respect for the folks who stock these fish.

''Those guys have a good job,'' Howland said. ''People will pay good money to catch fish like this.''

Don Perkins is a freelance writer who lives in Raymond. He can be reached at:

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