Rite of spring: Schoolchildren help stock Quabbin for anglers



Published: 04-14-2017 8:23 AM

ORANGE — Rodney Flagg sat under a lamp at the front of his bait and tackle shop tying up a batch of Winnie Squid flies. Every so often, the front door squeaked open, and a fisherman walked in.

“That time of year!” one told Flagg, 79. The angler would be back at 5 a.m. Saturday to pick up some shiners.

Flagg, who lives about 20 feet away from his store, Flagg’s Fly & Tackle, said he will be up at 4 a.m. Saturday, the day fishing gates open at the Quabbin Reservoir, and when anglers from all over will cast their lines in a sure sign that, finally, spring is here.

“I’ll probably get out here at 4 o’clock and there will already be boats sitting out in the yard waiting for bait,” Flagg said.

Fishing season in the Quabbin starts at 5 a.m. Saturday. Shore fishing along with three boat ramps will be accessible: at Gate 8 in Belchertown, at Gate 31 in New Salem and at Gate 43 in Hardwick.

After April 15, the sites will open at 6 a.m. each day until Oct. 14, when the season ends.

Down the road from Flagg in New Salem, Rick Oliver, owner of the New Salem General Store, said he sees an uptick in activity around this time every year.

“I’ve had a few guys in this morning looking for worms,” Oliver said. “You could call it a rite of spring. The Quabbin opens up. Stocking trucks are out. It’s a good sign.”

Stocking the Quabbin

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The reservoir sustains 27 species of fish, 17 of which are sought by anglers, according to the Department of Conservation and Recreation. In the spring, the most prolific fish, according to the department, are lake trout, land-locked salmon, smallmouth bass and white perch. This week, the state has also stocked the waters with 5,000 rainbow trout.

At Gate 8 Thursday morning, state workers stood beside a MassWildlife Ford flatbed with metal tanks carrying 1,600 rainbow trout.

The trout were 18 months old, raised on food pellets at the McLaughlin Fish Hatchery in Belchertown. On Thursday, a reality check: No longer would they be able to survive on the creature comforts at the hatchery.

Come Saturday, the fish that had become accustomed to pellets will be hungry, said DCR Ranger Dawn Metcalf.

“They’ll be very hungry for a while,” she said. “We’ll have people lining the shores giving them something to eat.”

On Thursday, when the workers were stocking the reservoir, perhaps the most unlucky fish were scooped up in nets by a worker and plopped into 5-gallon buckets three or four at time. A line of Shutesbury elementary schoolers in rain boots snaked away from the truck along the gravel, each of them waiting their turn to release a few fish into the shallows.

Some kids were easy on the fish, guiding them gently into the reservoir. Some tried unsuccessfully to wrangle the slimy creatures to put them in the water one-by-one. Other kids just dumped their buckets.

The last of the fish were blasted into the reservoir when workers lifted a chute and the remaining water and fish were funneled into the water.

When the fish touched the water, a torpor washed over them because of the temperature change. They vacillated slowly in the clear water, not straying too far from shore.

Towns prep for rush

Four miles to the south of Gate 8, in Belchertown, Richard “Grizz” Zolla and Ken Savoir, two bow technicians at R & R Sport Shop, were working behind the counter.

“There will be a line,” Savoir said of the Saturday crowds along the roadways, adding that the store will open at 5 a.m. “People will be there very early, way before the gates even open, just trying to get a spot.

“I will not be able to get out Saturday, to my dismay,” Savoir said, delivering a playful jab to Zolla, who is taking the day off.

“How many days a week did you have to go deer hunting?” Zolla asked.

“I know,” Savoir said, “I had to get that in there.”

“That’s twice you’ve said it,” Zolla said, laughing.

Savoir said the Quabbin boasts healthy populations of land-locked salmon and lake trout, some of the only populations around.

“The salmon are going to be the hardest fighters,” Savoir said. “A lot of the time you see the salmon coming out of the water.”

“If you got a fish that hits your line, starts ripping line out, 10-to-1 it’s a salmon, of the three,” Savoir said of lake trout, rainbow trout and salmon.

“Salmon will go airborne,” said Zolla, who said he sells his Grizz-brand tackle in 40 stores.

Zolla said a misconception about lake trout is that they don’t put up a fight. They do, he said, when hooked in shallow water.

“If you catch ’em in the shallows they’ll fight like a freight train,” Zolla said. “It’s a savage hit — starts peeling out line; it’s like you’ve got a VW running on the end of the line. It’s just going, going, going, going, going.”

“The difference between lakers and salmon is that a salmon’s going to make longer, deeper runs — more powerful runs; then they’ll also go airborne,” Zolla said.

Back in Orange, Flagg was making small-talk with another fisherman, Bruce Young, 44, of Montague Center.

“It’s gonna be a zoo the first day,” Flagg told Young. “It always is.”

“It always is,” Young repeated, as he laid down two smelt pattern flies he was going to use to try and hook some salmon.

Jack Suntrup can be reached at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.