MERIDEN — The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection stocked Black Pond with 1,050 rainbow trout earlier this week, with thousands more to follow this year.
John Kwolek, a city resident and fisherman, was sightseeing near the pond on Feb. 26 in time to watch the stocking, something he’s never seen take place on the ice.
DEEP stocks local ponds and lakes with fish from its Burlington and Plainfield hatcheries, according to Mike Beauchene, DEEP supervising fish biologist. Trout, a cold-water fish, are transported in tanks equipped with oxygen pumps to keep them healthy during the trip.
Last year, Black Pond was stocked with more than 5,000 fish, Beauchene said. Trout season ends today, and by the opening of the new season on April 19, DEEP plans to have stocked the pond with 3,000 fish.
By this time in the season, Beauchene said most of the fish have been caught. DEEP last stocked Black Pond with 300 trout on Oct. 15 and also delivered 30 brood stock on Oct. 29.
Brood trout are those kept at hatcheries to spawn, but are later released when they age and are less efficient at reproduction.
Those fish are five pounds or larger, Beauchene said, and were available for ice fishers.
This year has been unusually cold, allowing more ice fishing than normal in the state. Connecticut winters can be very mild, making ice fishing unsafe, so the sport is opportunistic, Beauchene said.
“With Connecticut, our winters are kind of hit or miss,” he said.
Heavy ice makes stocking more difficult, however. Holes have to be drilled into the ice and the fish brought in nets from the trucks to the water.
“Ice stocking can be labor intensive,” Beauchene said.
Kwolek said DEEP workers drilled a hole in the ice and used a funnel to get the fish into the water.
He helped clear the funnel when it became jammed with fish.
While watching fishers on Black Pond, Kwolek said he was reminded of his younger days ice fishing with his uncle and father.
To make a hole in the ice, someone would have to chop through with a sharpened pole. The tool came with a strap, since once the ice was broken it was easy to drop it into the water.
“I remember my uncle saying,” Remember to keep that connected to your wrist,’” Kwolek said.
Ice fishers have to be careful not to fall in, especially in the late winter and early spring when the water begins to warm. Currents can weaken the ice without any sign of thinning from the surface, Kwolek said, and one time his father fell in due to these patches. Friends helped him out.
Ice melts first around the edges of a pond.
“You have to cross that thin ice near the shore to get out to the thick ice in the middle,” Kwolek said.
While there can be thousands of fish in the pond, it’s no guarantee you’ll catch something.
While fishing, Kwolek saw a large swarm of fish in one spot after fishing for hours elsewhere without catching anything. Since the fish are raised in hatcheries, they often group together even in open water.
A further 1,800 brown trout will be stocked in the pond in the next two weeks, according to Beauchene. DEEP doesn’t provide dates when it will stock ponds.