NORWAY — Hundreds of brown trout went for a one-way airplane ride, on a beautiful fall morning Monday, to their new habitats in six remote Oxford Hills lakes.
“They swim the whole way down, headfirst,” Tim Knedler of the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department said of the trouts’ sudden ejection from the water-filled pods under on the plane’s wings and subsequent free-fall into the water less than 100 feet below.
Knedler, who is the fish culture supervisor at the New Gloucester Fish Hatchery, said the hatchery is one of eight state-wide hatcheries that raise and grow fish for the purpose of supplying fish for recreational fishing for residents and visiting anglers in the state of Maine.
Fall yearling brown trout, 12 to 14 inches in length, are stocked annually in Maine lakes and ponds to create year-round recreational fishing opportunities where there is no suitable spawning habitat. They are produced in state hatcheries and taken by plane, boat, foot and other means to lakes, rivers and streams throughout the state in the spring and fall, Knedler said.
The New Gloucester Fish Hatchery is one of six fish hatcheries – Casco, Dry Mills, Enfield, Governor Hill and Grand Lake Stream – and two rearing stations – Embden and Palermo – operated by the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife in the state.
Most of the 1.2 million fish that the department hatches to stock the water bodies in Maine in the fall and spring are simply sluiced into the water. A very small percentage have to be flown in to remote water bodies by plane or are put in special backpacks and walked up mountains like Mt. Blue and Bigelow Mountain where they are released. Others are brought in by all terrain vehicles or boats.
“The biologists set the orders,” Knedler said at the Norway lake boat ramp Monday morning where he and colleague, Ryan Stewart, help get the fish on board the plane that landed and took off about every 15 minutes for several hours that day to stock about six lakes in Oxford Hills.
This week Norway Lake acted as the transfer site because the existing boat ramp and wide open space allows the plane to access the trucks that carried the fish.
In about three hours, hundreds of fall yearlings (hatched a year and a half ago) and fall fingerland trout (smaller trout that were hatched in the spring) were flown and dumped into North Pond and Abbot Pond in Sumner, Little Concord Pond in Woodstock, Speck Pond No. 2 in Norway, Trout Pond in Mason Township and Overset Pond in Greenwood.
These are the remote lakes where the trout must be flown in, said Knedler.
Using five-gallon buckets to scoop the fish out of trucks that separately carried the fall’s yearling and fingerland trout, the fish were then loaded into two pods attached to the plane and taken up in the air for a short ride before they were released into the air over the designated water body.
The pilot presses a trigger and the fish are released from their pods, which contain pumped in oxygen to ensure they arrive healthy, Knedler explained.
The stocking has taken place at least for the last 100 years, but the department has used planes probably since the 1960s, said Knedler.
Each drop method – whether it is by plane, boat or otherwise – has been tested to ensure the fish population thrives.
Knedler said that during the first plane drops years ago, divers were placed in the water to make sure the fish would survive the drop.
Many of the fish will survive, but some 20 to 30 percent are eaten by loons once they are in the new habitat, said Mark Latti, spokesman for the DIFW. Latti said the department has biologists across the state including, including in Gray, who devise management plans for the state’s lakes and streams.
The biologists devise their plans in a variety of ways including surveying different lakes to see what types of fish are there and looking at the pressure on those fish. They also go out in the winter and spring to interview anglers and fly over the lakes several times a week to see how many anglers are out on the water.
The typical annual brown trout production from the New Gloucester Fish Hatchery is 35,000 8- to 10-inch spring yearlings, 23,000 12- to 14-inch fall yearlings and 950 retired brood stock that average 16 to 20 inches, according to the hatchery’s website. The fish are stocked into lakes, ponds, streams and rivers over the southern two-thirds of the state during more than 150 individual stockings in the spring and fall.
The department wants anglers and others who are interested to log onto the state’s website – www.maine.gov/ifw/index.html – to find a complete list of up-to-date stocking sites, along with information about what species of fish – and how many of that species – were introduced into each water.