As the late-winter sun warmed the woods lining Gunpowder Falls, a truck pulled up with a delivery of 3,000 feisty rainbow trout -- and Victor Broy got to thinking about lazy days and The Big One That Got Away.
"Biggest trout I ever seen," he said, insisting that the fish, still living a few miles downstream, is a 30-incher. So big, he said, that he first thought it was a bass.
Now, the downstream whopper has been joined in Gunpowder Falls by a few thousand farm-raised cousins, with the help of Broy. The retired die-maker from Essex was one of seven volunteers who assembled this week in the Sparks area in northern Baltimore County to help stock the stream with trout -- and mark the coming of spring.
To these anglers, putting fish in the stream was the next best thing to taking them out. Again and again, they happily slogged down stream banks with buckets of flipping, flopping trout. Some knelt to gently pour the fish into shallows; others reared back and tossed them end over end into the drink.
More than one volunteer paused to gaze admiringly into the shallow water. Watching the sleek, gray, newly liberated trout, some of the fishermen seemed almost lovestruck.
"Look at that fish," said Nick DiGiacomo, somewhat reverently. "Holy mackerel."
It was, in the end, a day for fish stories. A day for acknowledging the wiles of the wild, brown trout. For defending garlic-flecked cheese as the best bait to bring the dumber, tamer rainbow onto land -- and to the dinner table.
And despite some light rain near the end of the two-hour operation, it was a fish-stocking that went smoothly. In other words, no repeat of past missteps, such as the cold day at Severn Run when the trout froze before they hit the water, or the time striped bass schooled at a drop point in Liberty Reservoir like it was feeding time at the aquarium.
Long gone are the days when anglers waited for the stocking trucks to drive off -- and then quickly dropped a line on the newly freed fish. Now, the stream stays closed to fishing for at least a couple of weeks to give the trout a chance to scatter.
For some, spring's arrival is signaled by daffodil blooms or Opening Day of the baseball season. Others measure the seasonal change by the action in Maryland waters.
"There are two things that let us know when spring is here," said Bill Burton, retired outdoors columnist for The Sun. "One is when the yellow perch run. And the other is when they start stocking trout."
This year, some 400,000 rainbow trout are to be released for the state's freshwater anglers. Lakes and streams are stocked under a Department of Natural Resources program that is funded through fishing licenses, trout stamps and taxes on fishing gear.
The fish are placed in waterways that are designated for "put-and-take" -- that is, anglers can take home up to five fish a day. The hatchery-raised trout are ideal for novices and youngsters to hone their skills.
"Catch-and-release" areas, however, are inhabited by wild trout -- a challenge for serious anglers. "Brown trout are, on the average, smarter than most fishermen," said Charlie R. Gougeon, a regional fisheries manager for the state Department of Natural Resources.
Some among this year's crop of stocked rainbow are 16 weeks younger than normal because of floods that washed thousands of young trout from hatcheries last year. Still, the fish are about the normal size, most at least 12 inches long and nearly half a pound, said Bob Lunsford, the state's freshwater fisheries director.
The process of getting a load of fish to Gunpowder Falls began at about 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Albert Powell Fish Hatchery near Hagerstown.
Imported fish eggs
The hatchery, which holds nearly 800,000 fish, is a series of narrow pools known as "raceways." Some hold young "fingerlings" born not long ago from eggs imported from Washington state. Hatchery employee Eric Bittner, clad in hip boots and a rain jacket, jumped into the water in one raceway and used a screen to corral mature trout near the end.
He then scooped the fish out with a net and quickly weighed them. At an average of 2.1 fish per pound, workers calculated how many fish should be loaded into the truck's 400-gallon tanks.
The load was rounded out with 32-month-old trout that weighed an average of 1 1/2 pounds, and driven to Upper Glencoe Road near Sparks, where volunteers were waiting. The extra hands meant the fish could be dropped off in batches at several spots, allowing them to spread over a larger area.
Gougeon, the fisheries manager, then climbed aboard the truck, and dipped net loads of fish into buckets held by volunteers.
Method unknown to him
Bill Mueller, 29, has been fishing since he was a boy. But he never knew how the streams were stocked.
"I guess I had some tank imagined that went downstream, and the fish swam out," he said. "I didn't know they just put the fish in buckets and dumped them out."
Gougeon told the volunteers that they didn't have to release the fish gently. After all, he said, fish are dumped from airplanes to stock remote lakes.
Then, as he neared the bottom of the tank, Gougeon's net pulled out the biggest fish of the day. The volunteers pushed forward. One shouted, "I saw it first."
Gougeon, recalling Broy's fish tale, said: "It'll be a 25-incher for the angler that hooks him -- or 30 inches if he breaks the line."
Pub Date: 3/13/97