Sports

Farm fresh fish available at Micmac hatchery in Caribou

For the first 18 years of my life, I was fortunate enough to live within 100 yards of the Prestile Stream in Robinson. Fresh trout could be pulled from the pools and the shorelines were lined with fiddleheads. What combo could folks desire more for a May meal? Aroostook’s spring heritage for centuries includes fiddleheads and trout, or in our family an occasional mess of young, tender dandelion greens with the fresh fried brook trout.

A lot of young anglers got to enjoy fun and a fight from the big trout in the L.L. Bean fish tank at the annual Sportsman Show held at the University of Maine at Presque Isle in April. The brookies were supplied by the local Micmac fish farm. (Courtesy of Bill Graves)

Over the years, age, illness and various infirmities have kept many of my family members and friends from wading uneven, slippery brooks or muddy, insect-infested fiddlehead flats for their annual fish and ferns meal ingredients. I’ve done my best to be a good Samaritan and supply the tasty treats, and while I’ll use any excuse to go fishing, invariably some folks get overlooked.

Thankfully, a fair number of local entrepreneurs brave the elements to scrounge the bogs, marshes, islands and stream banks for pails full of fiddleheads. These folks can be found along the main street of most small towns selling the washed and cleaned furled ferns for a modest $3 per pound. Obtaining the firm, fresh pink flesh of native brook trout is a far more difficult task, however, especially for non-fishermen. Exacting regulations on selling wild game meat also enter the picture, but recently the Micmac Farms consortium has solved the fresh trout conundrum for Aroostook residents.

Over the last two years, I’ve driven from Presque Isle to Caribou a couple of hundred times, right past the Micmac Farms store. I‘ve even stopped to buy fresh vegetables and fruit a dozen or so times. Little did I know that the second long building parallel to Route 1 was a modern, fully operational fish hatchery. Even when I spotted a sign offering fresh trout for sale, the proverbial light bulb didn’t click on. It wasn’t until I was wandering the aisles of Presque Isle’s Fish and Game club’s annual spring sportsmen’s show and spotted kids fishing a pool full of beautiful big brook trout that the story unfolded.

Less than two weeks later, project manager Dave Macek was giving my cousin Steve Hitchcock and I an in depth tour of the hatchery and we were amazed. The 34,000 gallon indoor fish farm supports more than 30,000 brook trout hatched from native Maine eggs. Various tanks and pools hold from 1-3-inch fry up to 18-inch fish that weigh up to three pounds, all kept in constantly circulating fresh recycling well water to promote maximum growth and health. Closed circuit cameras, water circulation and temperature monitoring equipment as well as ambient light controls automatically watch over the operation 24 hours a day, especially when humans aren’t on hand.

There are 19,000 1-2 inch fry growing in five large tubs, 15,000 6-8-inch trout in one long tank and 4,500 large food fish in a second long trough. Each week a couple dozen of the big brookies are separated into a smaller tank for a week to purge their systems and then dispatched, cleaned and filleted for sale each Friday for any local folks who love and long for fresh trout.  Any area residents who don’t fish, or aren’t able to anymore for whatever reason, will find this is a wonderful option to put tasty trout on the table. It also allows local anglers to practice catch and release on area waterways to help maintain native populations, and then purchase food fish as needed.

Another beneficial attribute of Micmac Farms is the opportunity for Aroostook residents who might own a private pond to purchase and stock brook trout for sport fishing. Dave Macek, Jacob Pelkey and all the other hard working fish farm employees will cull the number and size of trout you desire, then deliver and stock your pond at a very reasonable price. Who wouldn’t love their own private fly fishing spot?

U.S. Fish and Wildlife, the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs and the Administration for Native Americans were all initial funders of this local project in 2015 that has taken a hold and is expanding and growing each year. Call Micmac Farms at 493-1269 for more info on fresh trout for tablefare or about stocking live fish, or visit the hatchery at 1353 Presque Isle Road in Caribou. There is another option available for added excitement, Micmac Farms owns a well stocked private pond with weekly permits available for $25, and visitors can catch and keep five trout a day. This offers a great option for youngsters, novice anglers or folks with an injury or physical disability who just can’t navigate rough terrain along regional wooded waterways.

While May and early June are traditionally the times for a tasty meal green and pink, fiddleheads and fish, thanks to a state of the art brook trout hatchery right in the Crown of Maine’s own backyard, delicious and healthy trout can be enjoyed year around.

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