Taking Stock: A Visit to the Sandwich, MA, Trout Hatchery

Massachusetts fish-hatchery personnel have been busily stocking lakes, ponds, rivers and streams throughout the state with thousands of trout. To find out what’s involved in the process, I wrangled a personal tour of the Sandwich Trout Hatchery in Sandwich. By Tom Richardson, Photography by AJ Derosa

Aquaculture operations have existed on the site since 1860. In 1912, the state purchased the property for $9,000 and turned it into a publicly funded game fish hatchery. The hatchery office—a cozy cabin heated by a wood stove—still bears the marks of the WPA workers who built it in 1940.

The sprawling hatchery grounds are open to the public, and it’s common to see families wandering among the fish pens or marveling at the enormous trophy fish—including a 19-pound rainbow—maintained by the hatchery. You can even feed the fish via a vending machine that doles out handfuls of feed pellets.

The trout are weighed prior to being placed in a hatchery truck.

Tax Dollars at Work

The hatchery staff are responsible for stocking all of the state-maintained lakes and ponds of southeastern Massachusetts, including those on Cape Cod and Martha’s Vineyard. Their efforts are supported by taxes on fishing tackle and fishing license sales in a direct user-pays, user-benefits relationship. The Sandwich Hatchery raises five species of trout, including brook trout, brown trout, tiger trout (a cross between brook and rainbow) and 2 species of rainbows. Most of the fish are stocked locally, although some of the tiger trout are shipped to the Berkshires.

A red-tailed hawk enjoys a free meal.

Eggs from Virginia

As I discovered on my visit, the trout at the Sandwich facility are grown from eggs shipped from Virginia broodstock. The eggs are kept in shallow pans inside a large, heated building that also contains rows of plastic tanks filled with maturing trout fry. The eggs take 46 days to hatch into alevins, which then take another 40 days to develop into free-swimming fry.

The fry are weaned on powdered feed inside the shed for 6 months, or until they reach 3 inches in length. At this point they are transferred to the long, outdoor pens, where they are fed pellets via automated machines. Most of the pens are covered by nets to keep out predators, although the hatchery staff keeps one open for the local osprey, which can be seen diving for fresh trout throughout the day.

Trout eggs are hatched indoors in large tanks.

Trucking Trout

When the trout reach 14″ long, they are scooped up in nets and placed inside metal tanks mounted on the back of the hatchery truck, which then takes them to the various ponds and lakes around the area. The truck is equipped with recirculating water pumps and oxygen tanks to keep the fish healthy during transport.

I tagged along with Greg McSharry as he drove to nearby Peters Pond in Sandwich and stocked it with rainbow, tiger and brook trout. Many people think of trout as delicate creatures, but you wouldn’t know it to see McSharry tossing netfuls of them into the pond from a height of four feet. “They are very hardy,” he told me, adding that hardly any of the fish die during the stocking procedure.

The trout are thrown into local lakes and ponds off the back of the hatchery truck.

All of the trout-stocking activity at Peters Pond soon attracted the attention of some local fishermen, who were curious to learn which species were being placed in the pond. A couple of anglers even wandered over to get a closer look—almost like kids drawn to an ice-cream truck. According to McSharry, the trout quickly adapt to their new home, and begin feeding within an hour. They’ll hit a variety of baits and lures, including live shiners, metal spoons and streamer flies. Trout fishing in Massachusetts is largely a put-and-take fishery, and it’s not likely that any of the stocked fish spawn on their own.

The Southeastern Massachusetts stocking operations are scheduled to continue through early May, then start again in October. Growing operations continue non-stop throughout the year, and the public is welcome to stop by for a visit. Just don’t touch the fish.

The Sandwich hatchery is located off Route 6A, not far from the Cape Cod Canal. The grounds are open to the public.

For more information: