Behind The Scenes: A Trip To The State Trout Hatchery

Every year, hundreds of thousands of trout are stocked in local lakes, rivers and streams. It’s a tremendous undertaking, and it’s funded by money raised through the sale of freshwater fishing licenses.

Every year, hundreds of thousands of trout are stocked in local lakes, rivers and streams. It’s a tremendous undertaking for state trout hatcheries, and it’s funded by money raised through the sale of freshwater fishing licenses. It takes about 18 months to raise a trout to 14 inches in length, and it requires a successful mixture of luck, biology, good timing and hard work.

trout eggs

The Trout Hatchery Process

The whole process begins with the eggs. At the hatchery I visited in Sandwich, MA, the brook, brown and tiger trout are started from eggs and milt collected from the hatchery’s resident fish, but the rainbow trout eggs are brought in from the federal hatchery. The fertilized eggs are placed in shallow mesh pans, which are then submerged in a vat beneath several inches of water. A deep well beneath the hatchery provides a steady stream of cold, crystal-clear water that trickles down over the fragile eggs. The deep well provides water that is exactly 50 degrees, the ideal temperature for hatching trout. Within a few weeks, the eggs will hatch and the trout will begin the cycle of life.

one inch trout fry trout hatchery tubs

Once they are fully developed into fingerlings, they get transferred into 500-gallon indoor tubs where they reside for several months and grow quickly.

four inch trout fry

By the time they are around 4 inches long, they are ready for the outside world and are transported to the outdoor pools.

Sandwich Trout Hatchery

These concrete enclosures, shrouded in heavy protective netting, are their home for the next year. The long, shallow pens receive a steady douse of the cold, clear well water, which flows constantly, keeping the pens clean and well oxygenated. At this point, the trout, residing in a safe river-like habitat, put on the feed bag and daily meals fatten them up quickly. Because the water temperature is constantly around 50 degrees, our long, cold winters don’t slow their growth.

Sandwich Hatchery indoor facility

The Trout Stocking Process

The hatchery is set up to run like a well-oiled machine. As soon as the adults are stocked, both in the spring and the fall, their space is replenished with younger fish. The hatchery staggers the hatchlings throughout the year in order to best maximize the space available. After 18 months, most of the fish will be 14-plus inches and ready to hit the local lakes and rivers. A small percentage remains at the hatchery for another year or more in order to provide eggs and milt for the next generation.

big broodstock trout

These big broodstock trout will eventually get stocked as well, giving anglers a shot at a trophy 3-plus-pounder. An even smaller percentage of fish will be kept to grow to massive proportions. This particular hatchery is open to the public and has a display pool for their most-prized specimens. It is a torturous sight for a fanatical fisherman. For just 25 cents, you can buy a fistful of trout pellets, served up out of a modified gumball machine. Toss them in the water, and witness as 5-plus-pound trout explode on the surface.

stocking trout in the spring

Trout do not thrive in warm water, so the adult fish are stocked in the spring and in the fall, with the spring stocking usually offering the biggest bonanza. Depending on where you live, the spring stocking usually occurs from mid-March through April. Many places will be stocked more than once with rainbow, brook, brown, and tiger trout, offering anglers an exciting mix of possibilities.

The first delivery of trout to the local ponds is always a source of much excitement. Like hearing the first peeper or red-wing blackbird of the year, it is a true and much-welcomed sign of spring, and reason to rejoice.

7 on “Behind The Scenes: A Trip To The State Trout Hatchery

  1. James Dion

    The inequality of Ma. stocking is that the ponds in eastern Ma. and the Cape are the benefit of larger fish, ( weight wise ) than fish stocked in the western part of the state. Also, the ramps on these ponds require that you have a town pass to launch, which are practically non existent for someone NOT from the town in which the pond is located.

    1. NT

      First, where would you get that data regarding size of east and west stocked fish? Second, that is largely not true for the vast majority of stocked ponds in the east. Are there a few that require a pass? Sure but it is the exception rather than the rule. If I were you, I would be happy that I get to catch fish in a place that A) Probably doesn’t have a pile of people and B) gets better ice in the winter unlike my typical east side trout excursion. Or keep complaining if it makes you feel better.

    2. Steve Merrill

      There are a few ramps where non town residents are denied access or have to pay more than locals.Any local town that denies access to a lake or pond the state should reevaluate the stocking of that water.No one should be denied access to water.

  2. Tim Ross

    I have been to the belchertown hatchery many times , and enjoyed my visits with many Coins spend on those awfull tasting pellets !
    cant you put some better candy or gum in them ?

  3. John

    I am not sure about size vs location for “put&stake”. But I wonder when the states will follow Col that seen stocking as a determent to native fish population in the 70s and stopped hatchery stocking. Since then seen native fish recover faster and better that “put&stake” states. I fish NH & ME and would like to see a few experimental waters tried. Saves $ and native speicies. I am not a fishery pro/expert so I can be wrong but just what I have read over the years.
    Just thinking out loud.

    1. John

      Sorry auto correct. “Put&take” I fish Me, Mass & Nh. Just my opinion. We have great wishing and F&G. Do a great job. But fishing in the three third world city’s Lowell, Lawrence (where I grew up) and Haverhill plus other comunitys (Sewell falls, Salisbury, etc) I see too much “Keep everything” fishermen transplants…. Spend more on enforcement and less on (put&take) IMHO. No offense meant. Well maybe!

  4. Jeff Brown

    I , live on the Cape and fish for these stocked trout regularly. It’s only during the Summer months when some towns beaches become resident sticker enforcement, or to pay daily fee. Most ramps are State owned and free to access and park first come basis. Nickerson State Park requires a daily State paid fee regardless of your residence. The Summer months are perhaps the worst time to even catch trout due to warming water, fish go deep and basically hibernate out. There are no native trout in these stocked pond regions (few exceptions for micro brookies in small streams)
    Yes, I feel fortunate to live here and have this opportunity, but by no means are these stocked ponds out of the public access, especially Spring and Fall when stocks are fresh.

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