Trout and kids – a prescription for fun
Kya Maloney caught the day's only painted turtle.
The origin of fun is kids and trout. The members of the Martha's Vineyard Fishing Club understood that basic principle the year they held a fishing tournament timed to coincide with the Division of Fisheries and Wildlife's spring stocking of Mill Pond in West Tisbury.
That was 33 years ago. Long-time tournament chairman Cooper "Coop" Gilkes of Edgartown recalled that about 30 kids showed up to fish.
After several years the tournament outgrew Mill Pond and moved to Wiggy's Pond in a private Oak Bluffs subdivision. The fishing club disappeared but not the tournament.
The rod and gun club picked up the bobber and agreed to sponsor the Kid's Trout Derby. Coop turned to Islanders for the money to pay for the trout. Individuals and businesses helped out with money and prizes.
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On an idyllic Saturday morning more than 225 kids surrounded Duarte's Pond off Lambert's Cove Road in West Tisbury. The bright sun rose on a tableau that captured the Vineyard community at its best.
As the resident geese paddled back and forth over the smooth surface of the pond honking to their companions (One guesses warnings about bobbers and powerbait), and a pair of skittish mallards wheeled and circled above, children fished among friends and family members.
Samantha Bunker of Chilmark and Emily Turney of West Tisbury passed me on their way to the tent to measure a fish. "No squeeze him really tight," Samantha advised Emily as she struggled to keep a firm grasp on her fish.
At the tent set up by the edge of the small parking lot administered by the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank, owner of the property, club members Eddy Belisle and Cliff Meehan doled out hot chocolate and hot dogs to eager kids with no physiological or psychological barriers against eating a dog before 7 am. Several other volunteers measured fish at a table.
"I just love seeing this," said Dr. Wayne Miller, as he surveyed the pond.
David Packer was one of many prize-winners.
For Dr. Miller the kid's trout derby was a house call. He and his wife Barbara own Blue Streams Hatchery in West Barnstable, one of the few remaining private trout hatcheries.
The hatchery is a long roll cast from Massachusetts General Hospital and the private practice and laboratory the medical geneticist operated with Barbara, a master's level genetic counselor.
Blue Streams Hatchery supplies quality fish to regional tournaments, private pond owners and on occasion, people who stop in for a visit - but they have to catch the fish first.
Over coffee last week I learned that the Millers transition from the medical cutting edge to fish farming began with a story in Yankee Magazine in Dec. 1988 about a Cape house and property that included a fish hatchery that was ore than 100 years old. Barbara joked that Wayne could not catch fish so he had to grow them.
Not long after signing a purchase and sales agreement the Millers received a call from someone interested in purchasing trout for a new hatchery he planned to open in Plymouth. With some assistance the hatchery was soon up and running.
The Millers operated a busy clinical and laboratory practice during the week, and spent the weekends on the property tending the trout farm. When a large bio-medical company offered to buy their genetics laboratory, then one of the largest on the East coast, Dr. Miller decided it was time to advance their retirement plans.
Emily Turney hoists a nice string of fish.
In 2000 the Millers moved to the Cape fulltime. They were soon supplying trout to fish farms around the state.
The couple raises approximately 8,000 to 10,000 pounds of rainbow, brook and brown trout each year. The hatchery has the advantage that water comes from a natural spring so there is no need to pump water, a significant expense.
As in other types of farming, weather and natural predators can significantly affect the harvest. Nets that are used to protect the ponds from predators can fall into the ponds under the weight of snow and become deathtraps. An osprey will take one fish but an otter will kill fish simply to kill.
The cost of feed, made primarily from fish meal, has also risen dramatically over the years. But fish farming is still a welcome change after years working indoors in a laboratory.
"We are outside every day of the year and we both love it," said Wayne.
Raising trout has been a learning experience. Initially, the spawning rate was low, approximately one fish for every 20 eggs. Over the years the Millers learned what works and what does not.
Wayne estimated where it used to take 400 to 500,00 eggs to get 20,000 fish it now requires about 80,000 eggs to get 60,000 fingerlings, juvenile fish.
Allie Nelson digs into the worm bait bucket - "It's a big, squishy one."
The obvious question that occurs to me when speaking to a geneticist turned fish farmer is if he could use his scientific skills to produce a fish that resembles someone, say Coop. Or maybe a species of trout with unique attributes, like the jumping ability of a tarpon.
Wayne said there is a certain amount of selection based on personal preference for how a fish looks but there is no directed effort. He said studies have shown that in the long run the random selection of brood fish produces a more viable stock. Letting nature take its course, remains the best method.
On Thursday and Friday prior to the tournament the Millers made two trips to the Vineyard to stock the pond with approximately 500 trout ranging in age from two and a half to four and a half years old. While most fish were in the two-pound range there were also some 5-pound fish.
Wayne estimates it costs him between $1.50 and $2 per pound to raise a trout. That is without a salary or cost of electricity to pump water.
In many ways the story of the small hatchery, with the costs and work involved, mirrors the story of the family farm. The Millers visited a large hatchery in Idaho where it cost approximately 60 cents per pound and the output is 50,000 pounds per day, or 24 million fish per year.
Casey Wallace brings a pickerel to be measured, followed by her dad, Tom.
Blue Streams Hatchery used to provide fish to an elderly fellow, Howard Miller of Wareham, who operated a hatchery into his 90s and provided the club's trout until he became ill. He introduced Coop to the Millers.
When the Millers are not tending trout they enjoy fly fishing for striped bass in Barnstable Harbor. "Do you ever fish on your pond?" I asked.
"Oh yeah," said Barbara enthusiastically.
I learned that the Millers host the type of party any fisherman would be happy to attend. They have an annual holiday picnic where guests are free to cast to trout in one of the uncovered ponds.
The Millers say that the most rewarding part of raising trout is watching the end result when they deliver trout to a local tournament. The enthusiasm of the volunteers and the involvement of families is very satisfying to watch.
Wayne notes that in general fishermen tend to be pretty nice people. And one of the best parts about fishing is the places people tend to do it are pretty beautiful he said.
On Saturday morning Duarte's Pond was just such a place.
Kyle Peters, two and three-quarter years old, had a productive morning.
Trout Derby results
Grand over all winners: Largest trout, Jackie Deitz, age 9, 18.5-inch trout; Largest fish of any other species, Didi Ross, age 4, 15-inch pickerel.
The two top winners each received a bicycle donated by the Martha's Vineyard Rod and Gun Club and Wheel Happy Bicycles.
Ages 4 to 8 category: 1. Autumn Richard, age 6, 16.5-inch trout; 2. Mitchell Chaves, age 7, 16.5-inch trout; 3. Emma Bunker, age 8, 15-inch trout.
Ages 9 to 11 category: 1. Joseph Tierney, age 11, 14.78-inch trout; 2. Samantha Bunker, age11, 14.5-inch trout;
3. Ryan Uva, age 9, 14.5-inch trout.
Ages 12 to 14 category: 1. Harrison Rodrigues, age 12, 15-inch trout; 2. Jeremy Maciel, age 12, 14-inch trout; 3. Adahy Gonsalvas, age 12, 13.5-inch trout.
Tessa Whitaker and David Packer were the recipients of the Third Annual Dr. Lawrence C. Sack Memorial Award. This award is presented each year to an 8 year-old girl and 8 year-old boy or younger by random drawing. Mrs. Sallyann Sack of Bethesda Maryland and Edgartown established the award in the memory of her husband, Dr. Lawrence C. Sack, who loved to fish and taught all seven of his grandchildren the fun of fishing.
Wayne and Barbara Miller went from medical genetics to trout farming.
Ben Ross and daughter Didi, grand overall prize-winner.
Photos by Susan Safford