A fish story from hatch to catch


May 04, 2008|By CANDUS THOMSON

Albert Powell raised a big, fat rainbow trout.

Charlie Gougeon put that fish in the Little Gunpowder River.

Chris Shaw reeled it in.

His dad, Robert, enjoyed a nice trout dinner.

How's that for chain of custody?

It's not often in telling the story of a noteworthy catch - and I've passed along a bunch to you - that one can say with a great degree of certainty how a specific fish arrived at the end of a particular hook and then to a single plate.

So, indulge me this one time. Because this is not only a story of how Shaw acquired his bragging rights, but also a story of the extraordinary work done by the biologists and field staff at the Maryland Fisheries Service.

Albert Powell is the name of one of the state's fish hatcheries. Built in Hagerstown more than a half century ago and named for a Maryland hatchery director, Powell has been the nursery for millions of trout that have been released in state rivers and streams to the delight of anglers of all ages.

The state buys trout eggs from private suppliers and trucks them to Powell, where they are placed in trays, hatched and nurtured until they are large enough to live in "the general population," as a prison warden might say.

The fingerlings are transferred to outdoor raceways, concrete troughs filled with aerated water from a spring, where they do their growing up. Hatchery staff feed the fish and ensure the water is clean.

Some fingerlings are relocated to Maryland waters to augment the local trout population. Other little fish spend their formative months at the Unicorn hatchery on the Eastern Shore or the Cedarville hatchery in Prince George's County.

But each spring, about 340,000 brown and rainbow trout of legal size are loaded into stocking trucks and hauled to the favorite fishing holes of anglers for the "put and take" season. (The state "puts" fish in and anglers "take" them home, as opposed to catch and release. The program is paid for when freshwater anglers buy $5 trout stamps for their licenses.)

About 10 percent of the fish - holdovers, they're called - continue to be cared for until they reach "Moby" size. At 4 pounds, 3 ounces and 22 inches in length, Shaw's fish was a holdover.

It was only the second time the Baltimore angler had fished that section of the Little Gunpowder. He showed up on the morning of April 26 at 4:30 and sat for an hour in his car above the river as drizzle misted his windows until it was legal to fish.

His work buddy, Rob Shuey, quickly caught six trout, which got Shaw grumbling to himself about the unfairness of it all. As the rain picked up, Shaw ducked under the bridge and cast his power bait to a dark hole.

Just like that, the line snapped tight and Shaw had himself a trophy.

"The hardest part was netting him," Shaw said. "I'm real clumsy, so I grabbed the net and ran up the bank because I didn't want to drop him in the water and lose him."

Shuey snapped photos, then the two men took the trout to Bowley's Bait and Tackle to be certified. Wanting to share the wealth, Shaw decided to give half his catch to his father, Robert, who taught him how to fish.

Problem: "I never filleted a trout before," said Shaw, 33. "So I went on YouTube."

Thanks to the Internet, the Shaw men enjoyed a terrific dinner.

If Central Maryland's trout population had a shepherd, Gougeon would be that keeper. As a longtime fisheries manager, he has sampled and surveyed every stream bend and deep hole in the region and oversees the stocking effort each year.

But expecting that Gougeon would remember one fish? Wow.

"Where did you say it was? How big?" Gougeon said. "I remember putting him in there Thursday [April 24]. He didn't move anywhere."

Raising trout is "an agricultural proposition," Gougeon said, with some years yielding a bumper crop and others suffering through crop failure.

The last year contained a lot of the latter, when the Bear Creek hatchery in Garrett County was shut down after whirling disease - caused by a parasite - was detected. About 80,000 diseased trout were destroyed.

The state disinfected the hatchery and this spring biologists are moving a few thousand young brown trout back into the raceways. They will be monitoring young rainbows - more prone to the disease - to see if they become infected.

With Bear Creek offline, the remaining hatcheries couldn't meet demand, so the Department of Natural Resources had to buy trout, a more expensive proposition. The added pressure meant fewer opportunities to grow holdover trophy trout.

And that's why Gougeon remembers pulling Shaw's big rainbow from the stocking truck.

"We got to the bottom of the bowl at our last stop and he was a real big one," Gougeon said. "I put him in a 5-gallon bucket and it was hard to get the lid on. I said, `I know where I'm going to put him - in the deepest pool. Someone's going to get a surprise.'"

Gougeon paused, and you could sense his pleasure building. "Apparently," he concluded, "a surprise was had."


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