Have you ever wondered how the big trout in the pond the Winthrop National Fish Hatchery uses for Methow Kids’ Fishing Day get there? No? Neither had I. I just took it for granted that hundreds of kids show up at the hatchery on the second Saturday of June each year, throw their lines in the water, and pull out fish that sometimes seemed bigger than the kids themselves. But when I heard that the 2019 supply of Fishing Day trout was jeopardized, I finally got curious and did a little digging.
The digging hardly required a teaspoon, let alone a shovel (just the kind of lightweight investigative journalism I specialize in), as Hatchery Manager Chris Pasley was only too happy to provide me with details of the great near-debacle of what I have chosen to refer to as The Mysterious Case of the Midnight Snackers.
It all began when in February, Chris and other hatchery employees began seeing otter tracks in the snow near the trout pond. That’s pretty normal, Chris says. “The river otters have been fishing the trout pond almost every winter, and normally they leave the larger ones and almost enough for the next Fishing Day, and then we supplement with some additional fish for the event,” he says.
But as the trout pond used for Fishing Day thawed out, Chris says, we realized, “Oh no, we can’t see ANY trout in the pond anymore.” The two families of otters had eaten every single fish in the pond, including the larger ones, some of which had been living in the pond for years. “A lot of them were quite old,” Chris says.
The plot thickened when the employees also saw tracks leading into the Coho and Steelhead raceways. “We noticed where they were getting in,” says Chris, “and a couple of times we saw six otters at a time leaving the hatchery.” He adds, in resignation, “They had quite a heyday.”
The otters were subsequently trapped, so the threat to the hatchery was removed, but the problem of the empty trout pond remained. Chris and his employees certainly didn’t want to have to tell the 500 kids who would be arriving at the hatchery for Fishing Day not to even bother baiting their hooks. But it was too late to raise any new fish in time for the event.
The solution came, fittingly, from a people who have a long and rich history of providing fish to feed families: the Colville Tribes. “The Colville Tribal Trout Hatchery was kind enough to donate about 500 really nice-sized trout for our event this year,” Chris says. “We drove our fish truck over to the Colvilles and picked them up. The pond is now stocked with 1- to 2-pound fish.”
A proverb tells us that there are plenty of fish in the sea. Thanks to the Colville Tribes, there are now plenty in the local hatchery’s trout pond as well.
The 2019 Methow Kids’ Fishing Day is at the Winthrop National Hatchery on Saturday, June 8, from 10 a.m.–2 p.m., and is free and open to the public.