Courtesy Moosehead Historical Society
The Maine Warden Service began aerial fish stocking even before it acquired its first official aircraft in 1939. These first attempts consisted of simply removing the back seat of the departments borrowed Gull-Wing Stinson and transporting the fish in metal milk barrels. After landing on the selected body of water the pilot would stand on the float and pour the fish into the lake.
Soon internal tanks were designed and constructed to fit inside the aircraft. These tanks could hold more fish and now the fish could exit the aircraft through a valve and stove pipe affair. This allowed faster unloads and also the opportunity to stock some remote ponds that were unsuitable for landing. These internal tanks held their own as the department upgraded through a variety of aircraft including the Cessna 180.
This stovepipe exit had its own limitations. Water would drain similar to a sink, and the fish, rightly so, tried to avoid this whirlpool. Although a major improvement over handling the fish in the barrels, the drain time from full to empty proved to be a limitation in regards as to the size of the water body that could be stocked. A better system was needed.
During the 1960’s warden pilots and their staff mechanic designed and constructed the roll top, external tanks that are still in use today. The large opening on these tanks, combined with the spring assisted ability to roll and empty their contents, now allowed the department to efficiently stock waters that previously were not possible. Added benefits of an externally mounted tank are the ease of on-loading water and fish and it is no longer necessary to remove substantial amounts of the aircraft interior. Warden Pilots could not convert their Cessna from patrol vehicle to fish hauler in less than two hours.
Today’s aerial stocking program is run much the same way as it was in the late 1960’s. One difference is that the department now flies all Cessna 185’s and bottled oxygen is directed into each fish tank. The dispersal of oxygen directly into the water allows them to carry up to 90 pounds of fish in each tank, or 180 pounds per flight. On a typical day it is common for warden aircraft to deliver in excess of 10,000 pounds of fish into various lakes and ponds. During one particularly busy fall in recent years it was calculated that they stocked 16,000 pounds in one day, a department record.
Aerial stocking begins soon after ice-out in mid May and again in late September when water temperatures cool so as not to shock the fish. Not all fish are air dropped. The pilot will land and release fish whenever feasible and especially with the more delicate species such as Landlocked Salmon. Brook Trout are highly adaptable to air drops as substantiated by divers whom have observed the effects on fish during actual airdrops. The time savings involved with utilizing aircraft proves to be less stressful on any fish that needs to get to an inaccessible or distant location when compared to an all day truck ride then a distant carry in buckets or specially designed backpacks.
*There is no date on this article or where it originated…will do a follow up story to see how stocking is done today….