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Trout Stocking Feels Spring Heat

A fishing license in New Hampshire goes for $35. That money helps fund the State’s six fish hatcheries, where the vast majority of trout that anglers reel in are raised. 

Theresa Michaels runs the one in Milford.

"These are brook trout in here. That’s probably about 25,000 in there right now. In a few weeks, they’ll be going to the outside pools," says Michaels.

These inch-long fish are protected inside the hatch-house. Outside is another story.

Michaels, a small woman with sandy hair, slips on some gear before we head out.

"Aren’t they nice? Hip boots. Hard to get them in my size, but they found them, finally."

The outdoor pools are covered, some with netting, others with fabric-domes that make them look like igloos. This keeps out hungry predators like blue heron, osprey and otters.

Humans are another concern. Poachers have even been known to steal fish one bucket at a time.

And this year, Michaels and her team have another headache to deal with: weather.

"This is an unusual year," she says. "Without any of the snow we usually see, and the lack of rain, we are experiencing very low stream flow conditions."

That makes depositing these fish in the wild more complicated, and Fish and Game may have to skip some streams this year.

The wells that supply water to the Milford hatchery could also dry up.

But the warm weather isn’t all bad.

Early ice-outs on the state’s lakes and ponds let Michaels and her team get a jump on stocking.

"We usually have a two month period where we stock 160,000 trout, in April and May. And this year was a little different," says Michaels.

That means fishermen heading out on opening day, April 28th, won’t be able to blame a lack of fish if they come home empty-handed.

Sterling Baker is a fish culturist.

"I grow the fish. Make sure they get up to size. And in the spring time, I drive around in the truck and dump them out wherever I’m told to," says Baker.

"Stress free," he adds.

On this day, he was told to deliver to Hogback Pond in Greenfield State Park. The fish travel in tanks atop a modified flatbed truck.

Then, 640 brook trout get unceremoniously heaved into the water.

"It’s sort of like giving birth. Yeah, sometimes you got to give em a smack," says Baker.

Even though conditions are good right now for stocking, wildlife officials are being cautious not to release too many fish too early.

They made that mistake back in 2006.

"We had a year very similar to this one, where there was very little snow melt, very little rain in the spring, and water levels were very low," says Jason Smith. He supervises all the hatcheries in the state.

 "And that mother’s day weekend, we ended up receiving somewhere between 16 and 18 inches of rain…and much of the trout we had stocked early, got washed away," says Smith.

Smith says it was a good lesson to learn about just how quickly conditions can change in New England.

For now, conditions for landing a trout or two appear to be pretty good. But in the end, even a bad day fishing beats just about everything else.

Todd started as a news correspondent with NHPR in 2009. He spent nearly a decade in the non-profit world, working with international development agencies and anti-poverty groups. He holds a master’s degree in public administration from Columbia University.
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