Trout are one of the most highly sought-after game fish in North America, but with increased angling pressure, the need for supplemental stocking has grown. More lakes than ever require regular input of hatchery-reared fish to maintain fish numbers. These unique fish may not be native, yet they carry their speckles with pride and offer anglers hours of enjoyment. In this feature, you will learn strategies for putting more of these special trout in your boat. Based on their behaviour and biology, which differs from native trout, we will see that supplemental stocking is not just a requirement, but a luxury as well. You will also find out how to catch them!

What is a stocked trout?

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A non-native stocked trout is a fish which, unlike its native cousin, has been artificially produced through aquaculture, and raised in a hatchery, with the goal of later releasing into a lake, or pond.  Non-native stocked trout, as the name implies, did not formally exist in the lake it is being introduced into, although becomes a resident within a short time. Trout hatcheries can be found throughout North America and, like the one I use in Montebello, Quebec (Canada) raise several trout species of various sizes and age classes.

Stocked trout differ in appearance from native trout, as their life in the hatchery setting is sometimes visible on their body, through markings and ‘fin wear.’ In some cases, stocked fish are fin-clipped so managers can monitor the year those fish was introduced.  Sure, stocked trout may appear different from native trout, but don’t kid yourself, they are every bit as exciting to catch!

Trout Stocking Methods

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The two most common trout stocking methods used are the ‘put and take fishery’ and the ‘put and delayed take’ fishery. A put and take initiative implies that trout are introduced at a large size, providing almost immediate availability to the angler.  The put and take trout spend at least two to three years in a hatchery before being large enough to release. These fish my show battle scars and damage, tend to be easier to catch, and will travel in schools more readily. They are also unlikely to reproduce naturally.

The second method of stocking is the put and delayed take initiative and the one most private conservationists (like myself) use. The intention of this method is liberating trout in their new home, at a younger age, allowing them to adapt and blend with other native trout if any exist. Trout used in the delayed take method are introduced as fry, yearlings or those less than 10″ in length.

Benefits of Supplemental stocking

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Lakes thriving with hatchery trout provide anglers with constant enjoyment. A well-managed hatchery lake can continue for many years, with stocked trout growing to substantial sizes, sometimes rivalling the maximum size of native trout.

Hatchery fish grow quickly which makes them appealing to both fishermen and fisheries managers. Since hatchery reared trout usually never spawn, their energy focuses on foraging and growth as apposed to reproduction. Stocked trout are also adaptable to most lakes, provided a certain quality of habitat exists and forage is available.  Another positive aspect is that hatchery trout will eat much of the same food as a native fish including invertebrates, worms, and forage bait fish. The greatest single advantage of hatchery stocking is that lakes previously fished out, will rebound nicely with a solid population of hatchery fish.

Catching stocked trout

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The best technique I use for locating hatchery trout is a slow troll, at different water depths, throughout the lake. Slow trolling with a fluttering spoon and worm allows anglers to cover water and identify areas where trout are holding and using habitat.  Should you hook one in a given spot, it is likely that other hatchery fish are using this same habitat. The search and locate technique is used widely throughout the country for natural trout, and is more effective for catching hatchery fish. The use of a fish-finder or sonar can also be beneficial in pin-pointing fish. Since these trout wonder more in open water than native fish, they are more easily picked up  sonar.

Trout stocked  at a larger size often stick together in small localized schools, and are easily identified on a fish finder. Remember when trolling to locate active fish, slow is always better.  Most stocked trout, although every bit as aggressive as their native cousins, may not use the same  cover such as undercut banks and submerged vegetation, as the natural trout .  A good pair of polarized glasses also allow you to spot fish swimming in open water in search of food.

Stocked Trout – Year Classes

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If you try a stocked lake which is heavily fished and begin catching trout between say, 12 and 13 inches in length, you can assume they were released together at the same time. Understanding the biological breakdown and year-class of your trout is advantageous when fishing a hatchery-supported lake. Well-maintained lakes with limited pressure will, over time, support a population with different year classes. You could catch a freshly introduced trout of perhaps 8 to 10 inches and immediately after hook a 4-pound trophy, which was stocked five years earlier.

Future of Supplemental Stocking

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The future of hatchery stocking appears bright, with its success resting squarely on the shoulders of those in charge of aquaculture and stocking initiatives. Understanding lake water parameters such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, PH level, turbidity, and the presence of spring upwellings are factors to consider when choosing a suitable lake for stocking. Good luck fishing for those incredible hatchery trout, perhaps I will see on the water!