STORY AND VIDEO: Making fish tales come true

Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist with the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife, introduces a rainbow trout from the state’s hatchery in Salisbury into East Creek in Rutland last week as part of the department’s Trophy Trout program. VIDEO: bit.ly/TrophyTrout DAVID W. SMITH / STAFF PHOTO

The Vermont’s Fish & Wildlife Department’s stream stocking efforts did not go unnoticed in Rutland’s Giorgetti Park last week. It started before trucks arrived from the hatchery. People holding fishing poles, some in hip waders, headed toward the banks of East Creek, or chatted with Fish & Wildlife personnel who had arrived early. There was a feeling of cheerful excitement as two fish-hauling trucks arrived, and the process of transferring the trout to the river began. Many were there, as volunteer Joe Mark put it, “not to help put the fish in the water, but to help take the fish out of the water.” These were, after all, some prize fish: rainbow trout that were 2 years old and 15 to 18 inches in length. They were sleek, speckled with color and powerful, and a prize for any freshwater angler. “They can come here to East Creek, that goes right through the middle of Rutland, and have a chance to catch possibly the largest fish they’ve ever caught,” said Shawn Good, a fisheries biologist who works in the Rutland office of Fish & Wildlife. This “trophy trout” stocking is part of a relatively new program for the department, which generally releases about a million fish from the state’s five hatcheries into rivers, streams, ponds and lakes each year. Most trout are a year old and reach a catchable length of about 9 inches. They’ve started holding back about 15,000 trout, however, and allow them to grow an extra year. They release them into designated bodies of water and along stretches of river that are heavily fished, close to large populations or that provide easy access to people with mobility issues. This is a recreation program, he explained, rather than about ecology or rebuilding a weak segment of the fish population. It’s all about providing opportunities for people to get outside. “Once we stock the East Creek with the trophy trout, you’ll see kids with fishing poles strapped to their backs, biking through town, heading to East Creek after school. That’s what it’s really about,” said Good. They stock East Creek from the Rutland Country Club, which provides golf carts to help them get to the river, to Giorgetti Park, he said. They’ll do this in April and May, putting in about 650 fish each time. The rainbow trout are raised at the Salisbury Fish Culture station. Anglers are limited to two trophy trout per day. Getting the fish into the river is a time-consuming chore. “It’s a lot of bucket trips from the truck to the river,” said Good, standing over a large, bathtub-like tank with lid on the bed of his pickup truck. Net by net, he and another man transferred fish a few at a time from the hatchery truck into the pickup tank. Trout would then be scooped into buckets. Others hauled these buckets containing a few kicking and splashing fish down to the nearest creek access to search for deep areas of water. Anglers and observers watched from a polite distance until a class of second-graders from nearby Northwest Primary School filed in, demanding a much closer view of the process and the chance to ask questions. Upriver, it was quieter. Three anglers fished from the riverbank while Good and a few volunteers waded out into the middle of the rapids in search of good eddies to empty their buckets. The idea, Mark explained, was to find spots in the river where the hatchery fish, who have never been outside a controlled environment, will have a chance to get their bearings and learn to behave a bit more like a trout should. While he doesn’t often fish in stocked waters himself, Mark, of Castleton, is lead facilitator for a program called Trout in the Classroom, which teaches young teenagers to raise and release fish. He works closely with Fish & Wildlife, and was happy to come out and help as a volunteer. He invited Andre Fleche, who lives nearby in Rutland and learned to fly-fish on East Creek. It was a good chance to give back, Fleche said, adding, “I’m certainly learning where they put the fish.” Dave White, of Wallingford, was one of the people fishing the riverbank during the stocking efforts. He denied being there to have the first shot as the new fish were released. “I fish most every day anyway, whether they’re stock fish or not,” he said, adding he throws back everything he catches that isn’t injured. Maggie Skidmore, of North Clarendon, also is a catch-and-release angler who does it for the sense of peace and tranquility she finds being outside. “It’s fun. I think everyone should get out there and reinvent themselves,” she said. Fish and Wildlife stocks trophy trout in about two dozen locations, including Mill Pond, Sunset Lake and the Winooski, Lamoille and Otter Creek rivers. Schedules are public information, and posted at vtfishandwildlife.com.

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