GILEAD – Eight-year-old Justin Freda of Leeds was one of about 40 excited people who turned out Thursday morning to help release 1,700 brown trout into the Androscoggin River.
The Leeds Central School third-grader, however, and a member of the Mollyockett Chapter of Trout Unlimited had to give up their seats in Rocky Freda’s boat to accommodate two television media representatives. Rocky Freda is the boy’s grandfather.
Freda, a registered Maine Guide, and Wende Gray, members of the Bethel area Chamber of Commerce, helped the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife and the Trout Unlimited chapter organize the event for the media and public to draw attention to the river’s recreational offerings.
The trout were stocked between Gilead’s dry hydrant site near the public boat launch and the boat launch in West Bethel.
Right away, IF&W public relations representative Bill Pierce and Maine Guide Nate Wight realized there were more boats than groupings of fish to be stocked.
So not everyone got to attach their craft to the floating inner tubes lined with mesh nets anchored at the bottom by four plastic pipes fitted into a square.
The method using the tubes is called float stocking. It allows fish to be released into likely hiding places and feeding habitats to protect them from natural predators and anglers while they adjust to the river.
Department biologists are trying to grow the Androscoggin’s fishery after years of environmental work to clean the river. Once, the Androscoggin was one of the 10 most polluted rivers in the United States.
The 10- to 12-inch brown trout being stocked Thursday were to be hand-netted out of the tube pens and placed in the river.
“We’ve only got 18 nets when we should have 25 to 30,” White said soon after the Emden fish hatchery truck arrived at 10 a.m.
Pierce quickly organized a bucket brigade to help Emden hatchery supervisor Gene Arsenault and assistant supervisor Kevin Sousa carry the fish to the water.
“These are the most photographed fish on the planet,” Pierce said after seeing media photographers filming the fish that Arsenault netted from holding tanks on the truck and deposited into buckets.
Pierce said each pail carried 75 to 100 fish.
Retired Maine game warden Don Gray of Newry carried the first bucket load down to Pierce, who stood thigh deep in the silt-stirred river.
Hatchery water splashed every which way while the trout squirmed and flapped in the pails.
Pierce poured the trout into the first of two tube-net pens. After each got two bucket loads, Pierce told Gray, and oarsman Jeff Parsons of Bethel, “Happy trails, guys!”
Rocky Freda quickly told the boaters who were ready to stock fish, “After the first set of rips, any water that looks like good holding water, put them there.”
At one point, while waiting for a boat to queue up to the shore, Pierce dumped a bucket into the river.
When Arsenault said Pierce had more fish than they intended to release by float stocking – the other half was to be dumped into the river in West Bethel – boaters without fish drifted down with the strong current to watch the effort and enjoy the paddle.
Meanwhile, Arsenault and Sousa got the truck ready for the drive to West Bethel.
Arsenault said that since Tuesday he and Sousa had stocked 15,000 brook and brown trout.