GILEAD — The warm, sunny weather on Friday morning was a perfect invitation for an outing on the Androscoggin River — and several anglers took some fish along for the ride.
Members of the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance prepped a small flotilla of rowboats and zodiacs at a boat launch off Bridge Street. They were later met by two Maine Department of Fish and Wildlife trucks packed with 4,000 brown and rainbow trout.
Most of the fish were piped directly from the trucks into the water. Before that process took place, however, the volunteers transferred several nets full of wriggling trout to “fish cars” towed by the boats. These devices provide a sealed container to hold the fish until they were removed by a net and put into the river. The group deposited fish for several miles along the Androscoggin River in Gilead and Bethel.
Scott Stone, president of the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance, said that such “float stocking” allows the fish to have a better chance of survival. It’s easier for predators to decimate trout loaded at one spot than trout spread over several miles of the river, he said.
“It’s like a buffet,” he said. “These animals and predators, they don’t have to go anywhere.”
The fish were raised in an Inland Fish and Wildlife hatchery in Casco. The process is funded by license fees and aims to restock the river for fishermen, said Steve Tremblay, fish culture supervisor for the department. He said float stocking is one of the rarer ways of introducing fish to a habitat.
“We don’t have the luxury to do that in a lot of places,” he said.
Stocking is needed on the Androscoggin River because natural trout reproduction cannot replace the losses. Luke Gray, a guide with Sun Valley Sports of Bethel, said there are several factors leading to this issue, including the number of predators and fishermen on the river. Water levels dropped late last year and the river’s temperature rose to a level lethal to several species, he said. Problems arise in the winter, as well, such as ice jams which affect the current.
“There are populations, but they’re sporadic,” Gray said.
Stone said a river steward will work on the river this summer to act as a biologist. The steward will teach educational programs for students at the 4-H Camp and Learning Center in Bryant Pond.
The stocking is done every year, but the Upper Andro Anglers Alliance is hoping it can eventually put an end to the practice. Educational programs and stocking programs that bring fish populations up to sustainable levels could eliminate the annual event, Stone said. The Upper Andro Anglers Alliance also hopes the area’s fishing will prove to be an economic strength to the Bethel area, he said.
“We’ve got all the parts and pieces for a year-round resort area, and yet we seem to fall short in the summertime,” he said. “There’s a lot of unused resources that could be used a lot better.”