By Tim Obrey, Fisheries Biologist
Why does the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife stock splake? This is a question often asked by Maine anglers. There are actually several reasons why this hybrid is actively managed in over 30 Maine waters. The reasons can be summed up in two words, "High Performance".
For example, splake grow at a faster rate than either of its' parental species, the brook trout and lake trout. In one pond, splake were stocked at an average length of 7.9 inches in October. A splake was taken the following June that measured 16.6 inches. That means this fish grew an average of nearly an inch a month! Splake also survive at a much higher rate than stocked brook trout. This translates to older and larger fish for the Maine angler. Splake are very catchable, especially in the winter. This means faster fishing for the angler and overall a better return on the sportsman's dollar. For example, Big Wood Pond in Jackman was one of the waters studied during the splake evaluation. Previous to the stocking of splake, Big Wood Pond was stocked with brook trout. During these years, the return of brook trout averaged 2-8% in the winter (i.e., for every 1000 lbs. stocked, only 20 to 80 lbs. were harvested by winter anglers). All of the brook trout checked by biologists on the lake were age 2. These were fish stocked the previous spring. No older hatchery trout were checked. When the splake stocking program began, winter returns were in the range of 40-60% for age 2 splake. In addition to this huge improvement in age 2 returns was the fact that splake were surviving to older ages. An additional 37% was harvested at ages 3 and older for a total of 141% of the weight stocked. That's impressive. Similar results were observed on other study waters.
But shouldn't the Department be stocking fish that can reproduce, so less stocking will be needed in the future? This sounds good in theory but what are the facts regarding stocked fish and their contribution to natural reproduction. As mentioned earlier, in many waters hatchery brook trout never live beyond their first winter at large. Therefore, they don't live long enough to mature and spawn. The fact is most of the fish stocked by the IF&W are not stocked with the intention of every spawning. They are stocked to grow and be harvested by anglers (put-grow-take). Most of our stocked waters in the State simply do not have the quantity or quality habitat necessary to provide the amount of spawning required to sustain a fishery. So, whichever species is stocked, there is very little opportunity for significant natural reproduction. Although it has never been documented in the wild, it has been done successfully in the hatchery situation. We do not expect to see any wild splake in Maine in the future.
Splake have enabled the IF&W to enhance coldwater angling in the State. In many waters where hatchery brook trout were stocked and provided only a put and take fishery, splake now provide larger fish and more opportunity to catch a fish. The splake program has created quality fisheries and more opportunity in many waters that otherwise would have little fishing value. Also, in many cases, creating splake fisheries could have the added benefit of reducing fishing pressure on nearby wild fisheries that are extremely valuable.
Splake will greatly enhance fishing opportunity in Maine. Data collected during the splake study are conclusive. Splake outperform hatchery brook trout in waters where water quality is adequate and where use/harvest are not excessive.
In addition, many splake waters can provide extended season fishing. For these reasons, splake will play an important role in the Departments efforts to increase fishing opportunity and improve fishing quality in the State of Maine.