Stockers: labor of love for trout


February 21, 1993|By GARY DIAMOND

Within the next few weeks, fisheries biologists from Maryland's Department of Natural Resources will wade through the bone-chilling waters of Deer Creek and the Little Gunpowder River, float stocking nearly 13,000 rainbow trout.

Although the vast majority of these fish measure 10 to 12 inches, a substantial number of larger trout traditionally are placed in each body of water.

"The state can be very proud of this stocking program," said Gov. Schaefer, "because it's an excellent example of a highly successful project using license revenue only -- not general tax dollars."

DNR Secretary Dr. Torrey C. Brown said, "We expect trout fishermen to be very pleased with the release this year because the trout are well above average size compared to what we've stocked in the past."

Although the governor and DNR are happy about Maryland's trout programs, there's more to this story than dumping trout into a stream so fishermen can catch them.

Volunteers from active fishing and conservation groups often meet biologists at stream-side, where they, too, wade into frigid waters, helping to distribute fish over a vast area.

Hundreds of anglers from organizations such as Trout Unlimited, Maryland Fly Anglers, Isaac Walton League of America and a host of individual local fish and game clubs take time off from their regular jobs to wade through streams with buckets of trout and pull floating fish pens, to perpetuate their favorite pastime -- trout fishing.

Although these fish are raised in raceways, ponds and pens, they're not pushovers that hit any object that falls in the water.

Granted, they've enjoyed a healthy diet of high-protein fish pellets while under the care of hatchery managers. However, a few days after being introduced into their new environment, they're fully acclimated, feeding on a variety of small minnows, worms, insects and grubs inhabiting the stream.

Most successful trout fishermen carry a vast assortment of bait including Velveeta cheese, whole kernel corn, garden worms, night crawlers, hellgrammites, meal worms and even a few tins of brightly colored maggots. Yes, even hatchery raised trout can be selective.

Apparently, someone with a weird sense of humor convinced hook manufacturers that trout can easily spot the eye of a hook embedded deeply in a pea-sized hunk of cheese, from distances exceeding the range of a stealth bomber.

I personally fail to see the humor of trying to pass 4-pound test through the eye of a size-22 hook, a feat equally as challenging as bungee jumping while tethered with a handful of size-10 rubber bands.

The secret to both is to stop shivering, something that defies all laws of physics when you're standing waist deep in 33-degree water, protected only by a thin layer of semi-porous material like waders.

Trout are ranked near the bottom of the IQ range, only slightly smarter than an oyster, thus explaining why they'll eat such things as miniature marshmallows, uncooked kernels of whole yellow corn, globs of slimy, gooey cheese and huge insects recently liberated from old Vincent Price movies.

According to the IGFA Book of World Record Gamefish, trout are so dumb, they'll hit the same bait dozens of times, ignoring the fact that a piece of bait just punched a hole in their jaw.

Fortunately, all species of trout are relatively easy to catch. If they were not easily fooled, we couldn't explain why we endure this type of physical abuse every spring.

Let's face it, most trout streams are not situated in the middle of a city park and the season doesn't open on July 4. Some are conveniently nestled at the bottom of a snow-covered, 12,000-foot-deep ravine that's inhabited by rattlesnakes and weird-looking creatures. These remote creeks usually are designated as catch-and-release areas or fly-fishing-only streams.

Old-timers, such as myself, avoid these situations and fish where the entire population of metropolitan Baltimore, Harrisburg, Pa., Richmond, Va., and Washington converges on opening day. Places where the longest walk to the stream is less than 100 yards and the terrain is flat as a pool table. Then, we bait up our tiny hooks with a glob of worm, sit down on a snow-covered stump and wait for the action to begin.

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