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How Trout Plants Work

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How Trout Plants Work

Photo by Brian Milne

Ever wonder how a trout plant works?

I was lucky enough to witness a trout plant recently at a local lake, and it was fun to watch.

I found myself dumbfounded with another half dozen anglers when the truck pulled up to the water’s edge and began dumping whopper after whopper into the lake.

The handful of us greeted the display like kids cheering on the ice cream truck on a hot Saturday afternoon.

This particular plant came from the Calaveras Trout Farm in Snelling, Calif., as trout plants from the Department of Fish and Game have been cut back in the Central Coast region of California.

The Calaveras Trout Farm, according to a company profile on manta.com, averages about $190,000 in annual sales. The company has four employees and is run by president Tim Goodson.

The company was actually founded by Edward Murrison, who died Oct. 20, 2006. Murrison moved to Calaveras County in 1962 to raise rainbow trout on the Middle Fork of the Mokelumne River.

Murrison later moved his farm to Snelling, where he turned gravel tailing piles along the Merced River into fish raceways. During the 1980s, Calaveras Trout Farm was one of the largest producers of rainbow trout in California, and Murrison served as president of both the California Aquaculture Association and the U.S. Trout Farmers Association. Murrison sold the trout farm a few years before his death.

Calaveras plants have been a boost to many California fisheries that don’t get the benefit of bi-weekly stocks from the state because of budget cuts and the travel costs that come with stocking remote lakes and streams.

But whether the stock comes from the state or a private trout farm, trout plants are pretty similar across the board.

The trucks, which have large tanks onboard – acting like giant fish aquariums that transport rainbow trout and other species around the state – pull up to launch ramps at marinas and other accessible points and unload the fish via a large pipe or hose.

On this particular day, Calaveras was dropping 1,000 pounds of fish, many of which were in the 2- to 3-pound class.

Most of us found ourselves slack-jawed as trophy rainbows free fell into the water near the main launch ramp, racing about the shallows when they finally found paydirt. You could see some of the fish begin to school right away near the shelter of the launch dock, while others raced around frantically uncertain about their new surroundings.

Some of the trout were so wound up they ended up beaching themselves on shore. If the spectators didn’t push the fish into the water, the Calaveras driver brushed them in with his broom.

And just like that, 1,000 pounds of fish had been transported into the lake, all in a matter of minutes.

Many of the trout hung around the marina area the rest of the day but very few were caught on the first day as the plant didn’t occur until late afternoon, and the fish were too dazed and confused to be interested in any flies I had to offer.

It would be another day or so before the fish adapted to their new environment and got a handle on the bugs and minnows in the area.

On this particular lake, I’ve found the fishing usually picks up the next day and continues to be good around the plant area for 48 hours or so before the trout fan out over the rest of the lake and seek refuge from us anglers (and predatory largemouth bass) along with a viable food source (feeder creeks, etc.).

When fly fishing a freshly stocked fishery, eye-catching patterns seem to work best as most trout-raised fish rely on reaction strikes, having grown up eating pellets. They don’t start stalking bugs, let alone learning the difference between a PMD and a blue-winged olive, until they become acclimated to their new home in the wild.

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