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  • Writer's pictureSteve Sorensen

That Stockie You Caught

Some purists might not appreciate stocked trout, but stocked trout are important to them anyway. Stocked trout are what keep the majority of trout fishermen buying licenses and supporting fisheries management. And they provide a wholesome form of fun anyone can find.

Stocked trout are no doubt different from wild native trout, but that doesn't mean anyone should look down on them. They might not be trying to avoid the teeth of the predatory muskie, or even the walleye, but they deserve respect.

If you'd like to see where stocked trout come from, and the process that turns them from eggs to catchable fish, even trophy fish, read my July 24 column in the Jamestown Gazette titled, “That Stockie You Caught,” and gain a new appreciation for stocked trout.

To access more of my writing on hunting topics, go to the home page of my blog, Mission: Hunter.

Photo #1 caption: These fish, rainbow trout and a few golden rainbows, will soon be released into a stream, likely to be caught by an angler. (Steve Sorensen photo)

Photo #2 caption: Here, biologist Michael Anderson talks about the enormous cold-water spring that feeds the hatchery, and the system which releases the nitrogen from the water into the air. (Steve Sorensen photo)


That Stockie You Caught

Steve Sorensen

That nine-inch stocked trout has been through a lot before it found your hook.

“Really?” you ask. “That’s not a native fish that had to avoid the ravenous mouths of bigger fish. It didn’t need to hide from herons and other hungry birds. It didn’t have to cope with constantly changing water temperatures. It never faced a muddy torrent in spring, then a nearly dry creek bed in summer. It didn’t have to forage for whatever food drifted by, and alternate between feast or famine. That stocked trout you’re talking about had it made—a life of luxury compared to the fish hatched in a stream.”

You know what life in the stream under wild conditions is like, so kudos for some good points. The world is no picnic for any wildlife, terrestrial or aquatic, and more people need to understand that. But not all of what you said is true. Hatchery fish do have predators.

Now, I’m no expert on fishing. I can’t remember the last time I caught a fish, so I probably know less about fishing than almost anyone reading this column.

My mind is like a steel trap—it spends a good deal of its time shut. But occasionally someone pries it open. Last weekend I attended the annual conference of the Mason-Dixon Outdoor Writers Association down in Maryland. One of the activities was a tour of the Albert Powell Trout Hatchery of the Maryland DNR, where fisheries biologist Michael Anderson wedged my mind open about what it takes to raise hundreds of thousands of trout for stream stocking.

Life isn’t all fun and games for the trout, or the people who manage them. Every waking and sleeping moment is devoted to protecting these trout because they’re a big investment. And a hoard of trout fishermen, and fisherladies, are waiting eagerly for stream stocking.

The hatchery gets 600,000 rainbow trout eggs from a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service hatchery, and for twenty days, the eggs rest in trays that keep conditions perfect. Once the fish hatch, each one has a food sac that provides nutrients. Soon they can swim, and they’re transferred to big blue vats where they grow rapidly.

You’ve probably driven by a hatchery somewhere and seen the concrete runs where the fish spend time growing. At this property, the biggest spring in Maryland feeds through these runs. A high volume of water at a constant 53 degrees is what makes this location perfect for trout.

Once the fish are moved to these outdoor runs, they become vulnerable to a variety of predators. We saw little green herons hoping for an easy meal. Kingfishers do the same. Great blue herons are a persistent nuisance and take their share of fish. Workers must guard against raccoons too, and on one occasion a black bear visited the hatchery. Worst of all, a creature called homo sapiens will try to steal fish for social media bragging rights. Certain ones of this species seem not to know that a stolen trout is not bragworthy. And they usually get caught.

Most of the concrete runs are covered so the fish aren’t visible to the perennially present and hungry predatory birds, and to protect them from sunburn—a risk wild trout seldom face.

What do the fish eat? In the old days, workers would grind up road-killed deer, and feed them to the fish. Now, their diet is dried, pelletized fish. Yup. Seafood eats seafood.

A big challenge for fish hatcheries everywhere these days is that farming practices put nitrogen into the soil. Runoff eventually carries it to waterways, and nitrogen is bad for fish. This hatchery uses aerators to dispel nitrogen into the air before it reaches the fish. After running through the hatchery the water must be cleaned, then channeled back into Beaver Creek. This hatchery is so efficient and water quality is so good that little needs to be done before the water is released.

Finally, the fish hit the streams, and maybe whatever you put on your hook. The sizes of fish that are stocked varies so that a variety of ages and sizes are available for anglers. The average is about 12-inches long and weighs about three-quarters of a pound. A few “trophy” fish—around four pounds—are stocked along with the others.


When “The Everyday Hunter” isn’t hunting, he’s thinking about hunting, talking about hunting, dreaming about hunting, writing about hunting, or wishing he were hunting. If you want to tell Steve exactly where your favorite hunting spot is, contact him through his website,


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