Feature photo: Early morning trout stocking- courtesy of Chris Barber
Thousands of the beautiful trout that enjoy life in our streams, creeks, ponds, and lakes spent their youth at the Essex County Fish Hatchery. Every year this hatchery acquires approximately 77,000 rainbow trout eggs, 75,000 brown trout eggs, and 70-77,000 brook trout eggs from huge US Fish and Wildlife suppliers located across the country.
Not all of the eggs make their way to adulthood, but the majority does. At the hatchery, under carefully controlled conditions, the eggs hatch and mature into adults, ready to take on a privileged life in the Adirondacks. They develop in stages; from eggs to fry to fingerlings that are about 2 ½ to 4” long. The one-year-olds are considered adolescents and are about 5-8”; two- and three-year-old fish are considered adults.
A Lot to Learn
I met up with Chris Barber, the hatchery’s supervising technician, on an early April morning. I was hoping to join the hatchery crew on a Putt’s Creek (also known as Putnam Creek) fish-stocking expedition. However, recent heavy rain swelled the creek and made the water too turbulent to consider stocking that particular morning. It’s traumatic for the young trout to leave their happy, well cared for environment at the hatchery. It would be tough enough for them to be tossed into the wild on their own without risking a good bashing against the rocks!
So instead, I spent some time learning about the trout raised here and hatchery operations from Chris and Tiffany Pinheiro, another hatchery technician. I learned that the fish raised here at this compact hatchery stocks over 60 bodies of water throughout Essex County. Spring stocking generally spans a 2 to 2 ½ month period.
Occasional special stockings occur for youth fishing derbies throughout the county. The hatchery’s main mission is to create and improve recreational fishing opportunities for resident and visiting anglers.
I strolled the hatchery grounds and admired the creekside setting comprised of many individual outdoor concrete ponds containing the different sizes, ages, and types of trout. There were plenty of signs at the various ponds to let me know which fish I was seeing. The ponds are continuously supplied with fresh creek water. That water is monitored for temperature and conditions to ensure the young trout get off to a good start.
Technicians are kept busy constantly monitoring and keeping conditions ideal. Every species — rainbow, brook and brown — has their own particular preferences. Some like it cooler than others, and some prefer quiet, slow moving water. All the ponds were teeming with fish and activity.
I was particularly fascinated with the pond called the “Retirement Home.” This pond was filled with extremely large trout that were several years old. The trout residents of this pond gave me a clear idea of just how big these guys can get. Rainbows can reach 28” and weigh up to 9 pounds! There I met up with two young families on a fun, educational outing. We all learned a great deal from Chris and Tiffany.
Plan a Visit
A visit to the Essex County Fish Hatchery is a great year-round family adventure. They are open every day from 8:00 am until 4:00 pm, and admission is free. Spring is actually the best time to visit; before a good share of the sizeable trout head off in stocking expeditions.
When you go, understand that the visit will be an outdoor experience. There is little to see that is undercover. So a rainy, or showery day, should include rain gear. The hatchery has big plans for upgrades to its facilities that include new restrooms and an interpretive visitors’ center. But, until then, you can still enjoy the facility, learn about the operations and everything you could possibly want to know about trout from Chris and Tiffany.
You can even enjoy a picnic on the grounds while you relax and listen to the sounds of the rushing creek. You may spot a Great Blue Heron or kingfisher trying to grab some lunch. The protective nets spanning the ponds effectively prevent that from happening.
Bring a few quarters, or better yet, some dollar bills. Feeding the fish is something you are definitely going to want to do, and if you bring the children, it’s a must. The ponds appear to boil as the trout enter a feeding frenzy when the pellets are tossed in. During the summer season a fish food dispenser will provide you with an ounce of fish food for a quarter. The food is in pellet form; very similar to rabbit pellets. A better buy is to get a whole pound for a dollar.
Overall, a visit to the fish hatchery is a must-do while in the area, whether or not you are an angler. Trout fishermen will certainly enjoy it, but it is a great family educational experience.
Find the hatchery on County Route 2 (also known as Creek Road) about 2 miles from the hamlet of Crown Point. Watch for the sign on to Fish Hatchery Road; proceed cautiously across the bridge onto the hatchery grounds.
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