Fishermen get first taste of spring with the arrival of trout

Rainbow trout go flying into Mill Pond. - Photo by Sam Moore

The first piscatorial harbingers of the spring fishing season on Martha’s Vineyard did not swim to the Island — they arrived on a Steamship Authority ferry Wednesday morning in a Division of Fisheries and Wildlife (DFW) truck. The specially modified tanker carried a full load of about 800 trout from the state’s Sandwich fish hatchery .

DFW stocks Island ponds twice each spring with hundreds of brook, brown, and rainbow trout. The next shipment will arrive in April. The trout truck followed a familiar route, stopping at Duarte’s, Uncle Seth’s, and Mill ponds in West Tisbury, and Upper Lagoon Pond in Oak Bluffs.

The stocking program is funded by the sale of state sporting licenses and federal reimbursements from taxes paid on sporting tackle.

Steve Hurley, DFW Southeast District Fisheries manager, told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday that the Vineyard shipment represents just a portion of the fish destined for Cape and Island ponds. In total, the hatchery produces about 50,000 pounds of fish, or between 60,000 and 70,000 fish. Stocking begins in March and ends sometime in May. There is a limited stocking of Cape ponds in the fall, when the Island’s attention is focused on the saltwater.

Mr. Hurley said water quality and preventing disease outbreaks are factors critical to the success of the hatchery program. Following strict inspection and monitoring protocols is key to preventing the introduction of disease.

Not all Vineyard ponds are especially suitable for trout. Duarte’s Pond is a flooded cranberry bog, and Mill Pond is a manmade impoundment. In the summer, the water temperature in both ponds can rise to unhealthy levels due to their shallow depth.

Mr. Hurley said brook trout will be deposited in Duarte’s; rainbows will be stocked in Seth’s and Mill; “and we’ve got rainbows and brown trout for Upper Lagoon Pond.” Water acidity and temperature help determine the mix.

Spring-fed Upper Lagoon Pond provides the best chance of survival and fish holdover because of its depth and temperature, and will receive the most fish. The herring run that links the pond to the lagoon also allows trout to drop down to the sea. Sea-run trout inhabit a number of streams in southeast Massachusetts.

At one time, the Vineyard sustained a large population of native brook trout. Dr. Jerome V.C. Smith, a medical doctor and former mayor of Boston, visited the Island in 1833, and referring to brook trout, described what he saw in Mill Brook:

“In no place, however, do we remember to have seen them in such abundance as in Dukes County, upon Martha’s Vineyard…. It was here in the month of November last, and of course in their spawning time; while returning home from a ramble among the heaths and hills of Chilmark and Tisbury, that crossing the principal brook of the island, our attention was attracted towards the agitated state of the water, and never do we recollect so fully to have realized the expression of its being ‘alive with fish’ as on this occasion.”

The remnants of that population still cling to survival in the upper reaches of Mill Brook.

Fishermen are allowed a limit of three trout per day from ponds. Fishermen 15 years of age and older must have a Massachusetts freshwater fishing license. Licenses are available online at