Hatchery giants are a thing of beauty

Hatchery giants are a thing of beauty
Alvie Sickle displays one of the "hatchery giants" that can torture tackle and make grown men cry ... a monster palomino trout that he promptly released after a few photos. What a fish! (Jim Gronaw photo)

I am well aware of the various opinions of hatchery trout, both good and bad.

I have, in my limited lifetime of 65 years, not had the opportunity, skills, nor the finances to sample those “blue ribbon” trout waters of Montana, Alaska or the Great Lakes tributaries. I have found that catching those pampered, pellet-fed giants of the concrete raceways to be, in its own way, my personal version of Back East trout fishing.


Yes, the put-and-take pulse of autumn trout has its rewards for a trout-starved, burnt-out bluegill angler. They leap high and fight hard all the way to the rip-rap shorelines or partially eroded stream banks.

No, they do not present the grand aura and experience of the wild fish, but then again, they’re not supposed to.

However, I must confess … I have not a single problem with catching high-spirited, beautiful (and sometimes, big) fish that bend the rod and peel the drag. Even though the tails and fins may be worn and bloody from running down the day’s allotment of high-protein pellets from those rough, concrete confines, hatchery trout, and especially the giants, make me smile.

I’ll be the first to admit that hatchery trout aren’t the smartest fish that swim. Most are dumped into small streams, lakes and ponds and then promptly fished for by the masses. The anglers descend on these waters in high number, with multiple tackle options and multiple intentions. Yes, some want a fresh meal of stocker-sized trout for the pan, while others desire just the chance to enjoy some light tackle fun.

Still others are looking for trout as bait for far bigger game … stripers or big catfish.

After they have arrived at their eternal home for awhile, and have somehow avoided capture, hatchery trout — and especially the giants — can develop some wariness and actually become what trout are touted to be…willy, discerning feeders that no longer fall for the standard array of dough baits, metal and feathers. Perhaps a few of the big boys have had close encounters of the hook, escaping with their very lives. Some adapt and start feeding on natural item like minnows, crayfish and varied insects.

Others yet may be “caught and released” and retain memory of the horrid event in their pea-sized brain.

And then, we will see bait-shop photos and Facebook braggings with those awesome, rotund rainbows and brown and palomino trout, complete with bulging stomachs and grinning anglers’ faces peering over the top of what we all know were long-time hatchery dwellers that have met their fate with a final encounter with Power Bait, a Mepps spinner or perhaps a marshmallow.

Who knows how many pounds of AquaMax it took to get those fish to those gigantic dimensions? And then, on the very heels of congratulatory praise, come the negative nay-sayers and “haters” of the angling world proclaiming once again the “dumbness” of the fish and how “easy” they are to catch. We fishermen, for the most part, have a very strange way of expressing our jealousy and envy, me included!

I would have to say about 98 percent of all the trout I have ever caught in my lifetime would have to have been stocked fish, usually 8- to 11-inch rainbows that were springtime arrivals to Mason Dixon area waters in various quantities. They filled a much-needed niche during March and April before the weather warmed and the “other fish” decided to start biting.

My only experience with natural, or native, trout came in the form of hunting down and finding, small, brilliantly colored native brook trout that live to this day in the tight confines of several streams along the Mason Dixon and the Catoctin Mountain Range. They are more numerous in western Maryland streams and tricklets as well.

A giant among native brookies would be a 10-incher, and a 13-inch class fish would be the catch of a lifetime for these guys. Everything is relative.

So, I feel blessed to have encountered, and caught, a few of the hatchery giants of which we speak. Several have exceeded eight pounds and one may have surpassed 10. All were caught on tiny panfish lures on 4-pound test line — yes, I gave them more than a chance to win the fight.

Some have launched those awesome profiles several feet from the water, others have nearly spooled me.


Every one was beautiful and every one was released. Special fish and in their own way and quite challenging in 40-degree water where both elements and wit were challenged. But one thing for sure — I never felt that any of them were any less of a fish simply because they grew up on the wrong side of the river or didn’t have bloodlines that dated back to royalty.

Whether they were planted for food, sport or delayed harvest, hatchery trout, including the giants, are what they are — beautiful.