ORONO, Maine — While many of their fellow students were attending a few last classes before next week’s final exams, some members of the University of Maine Fishing Club spent part of Tuesday on the banks of the Stillwater River, tossing brook trout into the chilly water.
“It’s awesome that [the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife] is willing to [stock fish] this close to campus,” said Chris Pullano, a club member who is a junior. “I’m sure we’ll have some kids out here trying to catch brook trout tomorrow.”
Jarod Hjort, a fish culture supervisor from the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Enfield Fish Hatchery, took those 10-inch trout out of tanks on a hatchery truck, handed buckets to the students and to volunteers from the Penobscot Fly Fishers.
In all, 500 fish were released into the Stillwater — 250 at the Steam Plant parking lot and 250 farther upstream. Later in the day, hatchery employees and volunteers stocked 750 trout at five locations between Griffin Road and Lovers Leap on Kenduskeag Stream in Bangor.
The trout are 10-inch yearlings, and are ready to be caught, kept and eaten by anglers who choose to harvest a few fish. Catch and release is fine, too.
“We’re trying to increase angler opportunity, and these are appropriate waters to do so,” said Jarod Hjort, fish culture supervisor at the Enfield Fish Hatchery. “The biologists have deemed these waters ‘high angler use’ and capable of holding fish year round, so we provide a few extras for everybody to catch.”
Maine Game Warden Jim Fahey has served as a liaison with the UMaine Fishing Club, and said the DIF&W has stocked fish in the Stillwater on campus for three or four years.
Those who go fishing in the Stillwater expecting to catch the quite common smallmouth bass may be in for a surprise, according to Fahey. First, however, they might have to change tactics and tackle.
“Hopefully people will learn that there’s the opportunity to catch trout, and rather than come geared up for larger fish like bass, if they keep their tackle selection a little more moderate, a little more versatile, they might catch a trout or a bass,” Fahey said.
And what lures would the warden suggest?
“If they use a Super Duper or a Daredevle or a Weeping Willow or a Mooselook Wobbler or something like that, [they may catch a trout],” Fahey said. “But if they come rigged up with big soft plastic baits they’re probably not going to catch these trout. They’d be more apt to attract a smallmouth bass.”
Mitchell Paisker, a UMaine student who helped found the UMaine Fishing Club with a group of friends three years ago, said he looks forward to projects like the fish-stocking event.
“We do ice fishing outings in the winter, and we do yearly cleanup projects on the Kenduskeag each spring,” Paisker said. “We all loved fishing, and we’d all go out together and hang out and just have a fun time on the river. We figured, ‘Why not get more people involved, and teach people who haven’t fished before.’”
Pullano said the club has about 20 or 30 active members, and said he expected several club members and other students to take advantage of the fishing opportunity.
And he wouldn’t rule out returning to the river after attending classes on Tuesday.
“I might come out here later this afternoon,” he said with a chuckle. “As soon as the stocking truck pulls away, right?”
In some Maine communities, the spring arrival of state fish-stocking trucks is a signal for locals to begin fishing.
Pullano joked about the phenomenon, but Hjort said the practice of fishing just after the hatchery truck pulls away is OK with him.
In fact, a few UMaine Fishing Club members began fishing before the truck left the Steam Plant parking lot on Tuesday.
“It happens quite often, but it’s what these fish are there for,” Hjort said. “They’re meant to be caught.”
Hjort’s Enfield-based crew has already stocked 10,000 fish in the past week and a half, and will stock another 50,000 fish before their spring work is finished. Other crews from other hatcheries have been doing parallel work around the state.
And Hjort said the DIF&W strives to let anglers know just where they can go to have the best chance of catching a few fish.
“For people to know where we stock, we do enter this data at the end of the day every day,” Hjort said. “So by tomorrow, it should show up on the [internet] stocking report.”