The life of a trout before opening day

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Some 20,000 anglers woke up early this past Saturday morning, grabbed their fishing poles, and put in a line on opening day of Rhode Island's freshwater fishing season. Fish & Wildlife officials say opening day might be the largest sporting event in the state.

It's cold and dark with just a hint of morning light as Phil Casto fiddles with his daughter's fishing line. "I'm rigging up the pole for my daughter Luciana," Casto says.

She wants to win first place this year.

Long before trout find themselves on the end of Luciana's hook, they're at the Lafayette Trout Hatchery in North Kingstown, where every year hatcheries manager Peter Angleone takes in a quarter of a million trout eggs that within a week become tiny babies.

"This is a tank that can hold approximately 6,000 to 10,000 4-inch fish,"Angeleone says about the month-old fish

Rectangular tanks line each side of the room. Angleone strolls down the center aisle checking in on the thousands and thousands of baby trout squirming around jam-packed in the tank. They spend their first three months of life here. It's a delicate stage, water temperature and alkaline levels need constant monitoring.

"When they're first born until they're about four inches, they need the harder water, the rainbow trout and the brown trout, this is when the cartilage, the bones is forming," he says.

Once they hit four inches, they head outdoors. Angelone swings open the door to a chain link cage covering long, narrow pools called raceways. Even thought the pools stretch for yards, the trout cram together.

In one pool, about 7,000 grayish, brownish brook trout compete for space. In the next pond over, thousands of golden trout swim freely. They're yellow color makes them perfect prize fish for children's derbies. But it also makes them vulnerable to prey.

"The thing with these is that we have to stock them at night b/c they're so light that if during day the predator birds like ospreys and herons, they can see them," he says. "So they stock at night to give the fish a fair chance."

All of the trout raised in Rhode Island: the golden trout, brook, brown and rainbow trout spend a little more than a year at state hatcheries. Then around mid-March huge trucks start pulling up. As big as a dump truck, this truck has six, big tanks that look like washing machines.

Two guys hop out and with nets on the end of a pole, scoop trout out of a pool, and hand the net up to Fred Chiarini, who loads them into the tanks. It looks like random scooping, but every fish has been counted and assigned to a location.Then it's off to the ponds. The first stop's at Roaring Brook Pond in the Arcadia management area.

A tube is fixed to a circular opening at the back of the truck, then Chiarini opens the tube and fish start shooting out into the pond. In less than a minute hundreds of trout find themselves for the first time with plenty of space to swim around.

"Right now they have some breathing room, but after a while they'll be a lot of people breathing down their necks," he says.

Luciana and her dad Phil have been waiting on one end of Slater Park Pond for the season to officially start.

"I remember when I was younger where, you know, breathing in the fresh air, the birds, the water, it's tranquil, it's peaceful, you think," he says. "It's good memories from when you were younger and you pass it on to someone like her."

At 6:00 am crowds lining the pond throw in their lines. Luciana has hers in less than thirty seconds when she catches her first trout.

Her father moves over to help her reel it in, "easy, don't pull him, just let him fight, keep the pole up kiddo."

It's hard to tell who's more proud, father or daughter. While he prepares the first catch, she casts her line back into the pond, and in less than ten minutes she's caught her second fish. He gives her a high five, and then pulls it off the hook.

This is not a good day for the trout, but it is for state hatchery workers. It's this kind of family moment, they say, that makes all the work of raising trout, worth it.

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