WARREN — Thanks to a helicopter, some 150,000 trout and salmon fingerlings briefly changed species Wednesday and became flying fish as the Department of Fish and Game aerially stocked 48 ponds throughout New Hampshire.
Beginning bright and early in the Dartmouth-Lake Sunapee Region, a helicopter contracted by Fish and Game picked up fingerlings, which are about three inches long, from several of the department’s six fish hatcheries, including here, the oldest hatchery in the system, and gently deposited them into ponds and lakes along the way.
After Warren, the helicopter traveled to Campton and then made a beeline for Pittsburg, before working its way back south, said Zac Curran, a Fish Culturist III at the Warren facility, which raises rainbow, brook and brown trout as well as land-locked salmon.
The Fish and Game’s hatcheries share and exchange eggs and fish in various states of growth depending on their needs. So while in many of the past years, the Warren hatchery gave its own fish for aerially stocking, this year it was just the transfer point for fish that came from the New Hampton hatchery.
The latter fish, Curran explained, were in better shape and therefore readier to stock. He said it takes a fish about a year to grow from an egg to a fingerling and about 18 months to become a “production fish,” meaning it is legally catchable.
Some of the Warren fish that didn’t get a chance to ride in the helicopter on Wednesday may be stocked via “backpack” in the near future, said Curran, wherein staff and many volunteers carry five-pound plastic bags of yearlings into fairly accessible local bodies of water.
But to get the fish deep in land, you need a helicopter, said Curran, who has ridden along on several past aerial stockings and recalled that once he got past the initial fear, all he did was grin in meting out the precise number of fish per pond.
Whereas some states stock aerially from a significant height, the Fish and Game helicopter actually lands on the pond to give the fingerlings a soft entry, said Curran, who considers himself “extremely fortunate” to work at the hatchery and also to have a passion for the kind of fishing that aerially stocking creates.
While there is much joy in catching a fish anywhere, “Fishing the remote ponds is one of my favorite things to do because it’s a different type of fishing,” he said. “Often, you’re hiking hours to get there.”