Next spring, the hatchery will have between 2,000 and 2,500 — probably closer to 2,500 — large rainbow trout to stock in waters throughout the county, LaMere told the Enterprise. They will average between 19 and 21 inches. The number the county hatchery can raise is limited since they take up two to three times as much space as the other fish.
Some years, LaMere said, the county has only had a few hundred of these 3-year-old fish to stock, because not as many fish lived that long. The fish are kept in outdoor tanks surrounded by netting, and some years mink are a larger problem than others.
LaMere said you can go out to the tanks sometimes and see fish with “pieces of their back and neck missing” due to mink.
“The females will take the young out there and they’re literally teaching them how to hunt,” LaMere said. “You’ll see a female with four, five, six kits.”
The hatchery workers try to stop the mink when they see them.
“When it’s nature is one thing. When it’s a captive species, it’s something different,” LaMere said.
However, the mink population has been lower for the past two years or so, LaMere said, leading to more 3-year-old fish.
In years when there are fewer 3-year-olds, they are mostly stocked in the six or seven ponds in the county where towns hold fishing derbies, such as Stevens Pond in Wilmington or Barkeater Pond in Keene.
“Now, there’s enough to cater to derbies plus distribute the rest all over the place,” LaMere said.
He said he would stock them throughout the county.
“I don’t want to just put them in bodies of water historically considered blue-ribbon trout waters, like the West Branch of the AuSable.”
LaMere said he keeps the stocking locations secret, although some anglers make this difficult.
“We literally have people who will park on the other side of our bridge and follow the truck” as it leaves the hatchery in Crown Point, he said.
The county stocked 17,300 brook trout, 16,000 brown trout and 140,225 rainbow trout countywide in spring 2010.
County officials considered closing the hatchery to save money earlier this year but decided against it, with proponents of keeping the hatchery arguing that its economic impact in attracting anglers far outweighed the $281,000 annual cost. Supervisors have been exploring selling fish to private clubs to make money, but the state Department of Environmental Conservation would have to change the hatchery’s deed to allow this.
The county has asked the state to change the deed but has gotten no response yet, said Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas of Jay. Douglas plans to visit Albany soon to lobby for a number of county issues, and he said he would discuss the issue with whomever Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo appoints as DEC commissioner.
Mike Lynch/Lake Placid News
The outdoor fish tanks at the Essex County Fish Hatchery are surrounded by netting to help keep out predators.