Lake Jennings stocks up for Spring Carnival

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Have you ever wondered where is the fish coming from and what is the process of stocking a lake, so the fishermen will enjoy throwing the bait and actually catching something? I wanted to go watch the event at Lake Jennings for over an year now and I finally made it last Thursday, when I set up the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and met Kira Haley, the recreation manager at the lake, coffee in hand (her), camera ready (me), eyes wide open (none of us yet).

Have you ever wondered where is the fish coming from and what is the process of stocking a lake, so the fishermen will enjoy throwing the bait and actually catching something? I wanted to go watch the event at Lake Jennings for over an year now and I finally made it last Thursday, when I set up the alarm for 4:30 a.m. and met Kira Haley, the recreation manager at the lake, coffee in hand (her), camera ready (me), eyes wide open (none of us yet).

Still pitch black outside, we are both waiting for the fish delivery to make it to Lake Jennings. Two drivers pulling in a four tank truck full of trout are carefully rolling through the gates, then down the steep ramp, turning around like a caterpillar on wheels, then backing up toward the boat house. However, the engine coughing and chocking is not loud enough to cover up the concert of hundreds of birds already awake, throwing tantrums and eager for toasted pondweed and trout for breakfast. A groupie of Great White Pelicans seems to know the drill already, lined up at the boat ramp, waiting for the fish to jump out of the water and don’t be surprised when I am going to tell you that’s exactly what is going to happen here soon enough. Literarily. Ask Haley.

Haley is welcoming the drivers, people who work at the lake start showing up already, Earl from the tack store is here too (everybody loves Earl), the dock gate loses its lock, and everything goes as scheduled, perfected to the very last detail during the many rehearsals happening before. It’s a crisp morning and the air tastes fishy already, when Kenneth Jansen, one of the drivers and operators, starts removing the caps off the first tank. His preteen son is helping lifting a tube, learning the trade. I wait by the dock, watching the lake breathing slowly under a tender layer of fog already dissipating, waves playfully kicking the shores, the lake stretching under the raising sun. The Snow Egrets are landing on the dock, few feet away from the Cormorants, another staple feature at the lake, guarding the boats and watching for the seagulls not to get to the fish first. Turkey Vultures are surveying the ruckus below, tormenting the trees around with their quarrels.

Then it just happens. It looks like the tall tree on the right by the tack store gets ravished by an explosion when huge wings the color of chocolate are taking over the timid morning light above at once, chasing an Osprey and that’s when I am able to recognize the unmistakable white head and tail, the legendary bald eagle, one of the few who are nesting at Lake Jennings this Spring. After winning versus the other bird, the eagle lands on the shore across the dock, steps into the water like an amateur fisherman and just grabs a fish. The eagle hops around a little, plays with the fish on the ground, tarnishes it in dirt, then changes his mind, grabs his prey and here it goes, splitting the air over to the tallest branch toward the dam. I scream with delight asking Haley and the others to come look, but they already know, they watch the bald eagles all the time.

It’s about 6:30am already and I’d better go back to watch the delivery. The fish comes all the way from Idaho sent by “Wright’s Rainbows,” a company that belongs to Sherman Wright, a 61 years old aquaculturist, maybe the last one of his kind in his county. Kenneth describes what he is doing every step of the way, how he removes the caps, one tank at the time, then shows me how he raises the gate inside the tank – and at that moment water comes splashing on our feet and only Haley seems to be properly booted for the occasion. Then comes this few feet long and curbed tube that gets attached to the tank. I asked everybody to freeze, please, and wait, so I can position myself with the camera at the right angle. Here it comes, the first batch of trout and all eyes are glued at the end of the tube, just a foot above the shallow water. Hundreds of them are coming out alive and, of course, the pelicans are there to catch them, with Haley calling them out, “Hey, that’s $4 dollar fish you’ve got there, give it back!” Too late. Second helping coming up! 

Kenneth is watching carefully, waiting for the first tank to drain. With his son following closely, he repeats the process with the second tank and I get up close and personal with that tube right in my face when I don’t move out of the way fast enough. Everything for a good cause! The fish is jumping out of the water for air and one of them interrupts Haley’s recorded interview, hopping on her leg and sitting there, waiting to be petted. Haley picks one up and releases it back in the water, proving that fishing with a pole is overrated for people with special powers. 

“We stock 1,500 lbs of trout today and we do this every week or every other week during trout season. We’ve got a stock next week of 1,700 lbs and then one more before the end of the season, “ says Haley, pointing out that the Spring break is coming up next week with the dock gate open daily, “and Friday and Saturday there is night fishing until midnight.” Why the trout delivery, Haley?

“We have the Spring Carnival next Saturday, on April 8, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. when we will have 2,000 Easter eggs out here,” she said. “We will have the kids’ pond in, which is a 20 by 20 PVC cube we drop in the lake and stock trout directly into it for children under the age of 10. So they can come out and catch a fish out of the pond and hunt for some Easter eggs and spend the rest of the day at the lake. “

Now that you know how long it took for that friendly and easy to catch gullible trout to make it to Lake Jennings (14 hours driving straight from Idaho), how early do these people at the lake had to get up to open the gates for the delivery truck (too early!), how it got from the tanks into the water (through the tubes) and from the water into the pelican’s bill (blame the gravity for that one), maybe you’ll be tempted to try getting the weight and that sliding sinker just right for the $4 a piece trout to pick up your bait and make your day and maybe make it onto your dinner plate as well, next to your veggies.

Happy fishing at Lake Jennings! 

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