Four trout varieties that are stocked in local waters
Recently I made a visit to the Sandwich fish hatchery. That’s where the state raises trout for stocking in local ponds and rivers and I spoke with Mike Clark who helps breed four different trout varieties.
He explained how brook trout are our native fish and that they go all the way from the Arctic Circle up in Canada, down the coast, and then into the Smoky Mountains.
"A lot of people call it the most beautiful fish or freshwater fish in North America," he said. "The spawning colors of them is spectacular. And most people are shocked that they live in New England and you're like, you think that is something you'd see in the tropical ocean."
Brook trout are a deep ruddy orange on their bellies and greenish-gray with yellow and blue and sometimes pink speckles on their sides and backs. Some brook trout live only in freshwater, and others like those found historically on the Cape are anadromous — they swim out to sea and come back inland to freshwater to spawn. Fisherman call these ‘salters.’
The hatchery is also breeding a non-native species called brown trout.
"Brown trout are native to Europe. The Europeans brought them here when they colonized New England," Mike said.
Brown trout were widely introduced in North America in the late 1800s, as native brook trout populations declined. Today, some brown trout populations have become self-sustaining, and in other places, like on the Cape, the fish are regularly stocked.
"We maintain a brood stock of the brook trout and the brown trout. Obviously, we spawn those to make the two trout, and we cross the two to make the tiger trout."
The tiger trout is a human creation — like the fish equivalent of a mule. And like mules, tiger trout are sterile hybrids.
"All the tiger trout in this state are manmade. They all come from this facility. And we take a male brook trout and a female brown trout. If you do it the other way around, the egg and the sperm aren't the right size and it doesn't lead to a very high success rate," Mike said.
Tiger trout range in color from greenish-yellow to brown and as the name implies they’re striped like a tiger. Fishermen also say they have an aggressive attitude, and they’re popular because since they don’t spawn, they devote all their time and energy to eating. But while tiger trout can get large, the biggest species the hatchery spawns is rainbow trout.
"The rainbow trout are from the western slope of North America so the Rocky Mountains west, all the way from Mexico up to Alaska, they’re the fastest growing trout; they can get massive."
They are huge.
"Some of these fish are about twenty pounds. Rainbow trout, when they’re this size it’s really easy to tell the male and female apart, the females are a lot rounder so they can carry more eggs and they have a shorter snout, whereas the males have that long hooked bottom jaw called the Kype jaw which they use kind of like antlers on a deer it shows how dominant they are and they use it to fight with the other males for access to the spawning females."
The rainbow trout are beautiful-pale green on top with brownish-gray speckles and a pink stripe along their sides.
"They're very closely related to Pacific salmon. They're also known as steelhead, the ones that migrate out to the ocean."
Like brook trout and salters, rainbow trout and steelhead are genetically the same species but different populations have different lifestyles.
Rainbow trout spend their whole lives in fresh water whereas the fish we call steelhead migrate out to the sea and return inland to spawn. The food in saltwater is different, so the steelhead also look different. And because of the state hatchery in Sandwich, you can catch all four of these species — brook trout, brown trout, tiger trout, and rainbow trout — in local rivers and ponds.
Find a primer on IDing stocked trout here:
Elspeth’s husband has been trout fishing all spring and says when he gets a good haul they like to smoke the trout. You can find the recipe she uses for brine here:
'Humpa' Bradford's Fish Brine
1 gallon water
2 cups iodized salt
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup lemon juice
1/2 cup garlic powder
1/2 cup onion powder
1/4 cup oregano
Making the brine:
Blend all ingredients and make sure sugar, salt, garlic, and onion are dissolved.
Brining the fish: Make sure all parts of the fish fillets are completely submerged in liquid when brining. Time control is absolutely crucial to the flavor of fish; whole fish should be brined for one hour; fillets for 30 minutes.
Drying the fish: Drying is the key to this recipe. Fish portions should be placed on wire racks with a consistent air flow between 38 and 40 degrees F (we use an old extra fridge in the basement). Fish should be dried until it has a 'rubbery sheen' to the top of it. This usually takes about 10 hours at 60% humidity. Overnight in a refrigerator should be sufficient.
If you can use the same racks you dry on for the ones you smoke on, you save a good deal of time by not having to transfer the fish. However, this means that you must scrape and clean the racks and then spray the wire racks with a non-stick oil spray before you start to dry.
Wood: The ideal woods for smoking fish are local apple or cherry. Any hard fruit trees like peach or pear also work well. We sometimes use used oak bourbon whiskey or sherry cask shavings or any dried oak barrels. No conifers or locust ever.
Smoking: The hot smoking time is dependent on two factors—temperature and quantity of smoke. Because of these factors the fish should be rotated throughout the smoking process to ensure equal distribution of heat and smoke. The thicker the fish, the longer it takes. The beginning temperature should be as low as possible while generating as much smoke as possible (between 125-150 F) for about 2-3 hours or until the fish looks like it has been completely penetrated with a nice caramel smoke color. The key is to finish the fish at high heat (350-400F) for about 30 minutes or until there is a nice browned layer with the fat bubbling through the surface.
When the fish is done it must be cooled as quickly as possible. Once it is cooled it should ideally be vacuum sealed to lock in the moisture, or frozen carefully in plastic wraps or bags.