A few of the fish dropped 100 feet to the water die, but most survive.

RANGELEY (AP) – A crew of hatchery workers sprang into action when a floatplane landed on Rangeley Lake and sputtered to a stop.

The men tripped over one another as they hurriedly sloshed buckets full of squirming brook trout into tanks mounted on the plane’s pontoons. Then the plane was back in the air, ready to stock remote lakes and ponds.

Every fall, pilots stock 150,000 fish from the air, just a fraction of the annual stocking order of 1.2 million trout and salmon grown in the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s fish hatcheries. It amounts to a hectic two weeks as warden pilots try to squeeze in the work between the September and October moose-hunting seasons, when pilots are too busy monitoring hunters to participate in the fish-stocking effort.

The warden service planes fly over remote ponds too small to land on, and drop hundreds of fish in the water.

For the fish, it’s an 80-mile-per hour, 100-foot free fall into the water.

Fortunately the fish are tough enough to handle the skydiving, said Gene Arsenal of the Embed Rearing Station, a state-run hatchery.

“You’ll lose a few,” he said last week. “But the benefits of doing it this way far outweigh any losses.”

Without the planes, most of these ponds simply wouldn’t have fish. Though they boast the cold water and rugged scenery, many of Maine’s mountainous ponds lack the spawning grounds to promote a natural fish population.

Driving to these remote areas with the hatchery’s tank trucks, which pump fish into more accessible locales, just isn’t an option here.

“They’re so difficult to get into, even with a four-wheel drive, that it’s just cheaper and easier to do it by plane,” Arsenal said.

East Richardson Pond in Adamstown Township, one of the locations stocked last week, is testimony to Arsenault’s understatement.

The water is a good 45-minute walk over wildlife trails and unpaved roads clogged with dead branches.

The shore of the pond is a wall of trees right down to the water, with plush cushions of 6-inch-deep moss and brilliant orange and green lichens glistening on boulders. The slightest sound echoes back from every corner of the lake.

Anglers tell DIF&W time and again that they’re seeking this type of wilderness experience, and the state does its best to comply, Wilson said.

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