Each year, to the delight of anglers, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources stocks 131 streams and ponds with trout raised in the state's four trout hatcheries in Garrett and Washington counties. The Baltimore Sun spoke with Marshall Brown, cold water production manager at the Albert Powell Hatchery in Hagerstown, about the spring stocking process that runs from February through May.
You place trout everywhere from the Gunpowder River to Deep Creek Lake. Who chooses the sites?
Brown: That was determined years ago by fisheries biologists. Occasionally, we'll add or subtract a site because of changing water quality conditions or in the accessibility of a stream through private property.
How many trout will you stock this spring?
Brown: About 338,000 rainbow, golden rainbow and brown trout. Our hope is that 95 percent will be caught because most won't survive year-round. When water temperatures get over 70 degrees, trout start to suffer.
Do hatchery fish mix with brook trout, which are native to Maryland?
Brown: Typically, we don't release them in streams and tributaries where brook trout are prevalent.
Do avid fishermen wait at creeks and lakes for your arrival?
Brown: Some do. We publish a stocking schedule each week. Some people wait outside the hatchery and follow us to the sites. Yesterday, we hauled fish up to Wills Creek, in Cumberland, and one guy followed our tank truck all the way (70 miles).
So fishing starts on your arrival?
Brown: About 60 percent of streams are open year-round. But about one-third of them will be closed from March 6-25, during stocking, and the rest are closed March 19-25. (For more details, go to http://dnr.maryland.gov/Fisheries/Pages/default.aspx).
Do anglers themselves visit the hatcheries?
Brown: They come in daily to see the fish. Some will point to a trout and ask, "Where are you stocking this one?"
How many eggs do you purchase?
Brown: About 600,000, nearly 99 percent of which hatch.
What does each fish cost?
Brown: It's well below the commercial rate of $2.85. For us to raise the same trout costs around $2. It's paid for by trout stamps (which fishermen must buy) and federal funding.
Will trout eat each other?
Brown: They can cannibalize smaller fish, so we try to keep them graded by size at the hatchery.
What other perils face trout in a hatchery?
Brown: Parasites. Bacterial gill disease. Last year, we lost 20,000 fish from an outbreak of ich (white spot disease).
How do you move the fish from tank truck to streams?
Brown: Mostly, we haul buckets of trout, by hand, to the water source. Once in a while a fish (escapes), but we pick it up and go on.
Do the fish wriggle off right away?
Brown: It depends. If it's fast water, they'll swim; in a pool, they may sit there awhile.
Are native species smarter than hatchery-raised trout?
Brown: People who work with native ones will tell you so. For the most part, hatchery-reared trout are aggressive fish that are used to human interaction because they are fed daily. But once in a stream, they adapt quickly and avoid you — golden trout, especially, are very elusive.
How large are the fish you release?
Brown: Most are 1-year-olds, averaging 10 to 12 inches and one-half pound. But 10 percent of each load are "holdovers," or 2-year-old fish nearly double that size, which gives fishermen a variety. We'll also throw in a few "trophy" fish, which are 3- or 4-year-olds averaging 5 to 8 pounds each.
Do you remember the trophy fish?
Brown: You get familiar with some of them from their different color patterns or body features, like fin erosion or missing scales.
Over four years, you must bond with some trophy fish. Ever name them?
Brown: I remember one we had years ago named Steve. He was a big one, but I'm sure he's dead now.