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It was a day of firsts, including ice fishing in reverse?
"I've ice-fished taking 'em out, but I've never ice-fished putting 'em in," cracked Raymond Atchison, a veteran Department of Fish and Wildlife employee.
Atchison and his partner, Josh Mangan, were on their maiden fish-stocking effort of 2010. It was one week ago.
Two thousand rainbow trout from the federal hatchery at Wolf Creek Dam were floating in the tanks of the department's fish transport truck. They were destined to be the first-ever rainbow trout stocking into Marion County's Fagan Branch Reservoir.
There was a problem. In fact, two.
A recent winter blast had left the boat ramp so ice- and snow-packed, if Atchison and Mangan attempted to backslide the huge truck down that ramp the reservoir might be stocked with the transport truck, instead.
And the ice was about 4-inches thick.
"Well," deadpanned Atchison, "I've seen worse."
"Worse" included backpacking rainbows six miles up a trail into remote Red River Gorge in Eastern Kentucky.
Without hesitation, Atchison grabbed an axe from the truck and within moments had a hole chopped. The water temperature was 38 degrees Fahrenheit. Cold. Perfect for rainbow trout.
Within half an hour the two men had hauled 2,000 rainbow trout from the truck, into a plastic garbage can filled with aerated water, about 200 fish per trip, 40 yards to the hole and in.
The rainbow trout, Oncorhynchus mykiss, were of the strain Arlee, said Eric Cummins, fisheries biologist for the Kentucky Southwestern District, which includes Marion County.
Cummins helped hatch this unique idea last summer when he took test readings at Fagan Branch and, to his surprise, found conditions perfect to maintain a resident population of rainbow trout.
"That lake is similar to some of our Eastern Kentucky steep-sided lakes that are deep," said Cummins. "We believe Fagan Branch has suitable conditions that will allow rainbows to survive year-round, and there's the possibility of some larger fish."
Fagan Branch's feeder stream and runoff conditions are so good the deep lake is so clear that oxygen is produced at deeper-than-usual levels. The cold temps and the oxygen are the key ingredients.
"Moving water is necessary only for trout reproduction," said Cummins of the fish normally associated with mountain streams. "The trout at Fagan won't reproduce."
But they will live--and grow--throughout the year, and the population will be boosted with annual stockings of 2,000 fish each January and November, creating the uncommon fishing opportunity in Marion County.
The 2,000 dropped in last week were 6- to 9-inch fish, with numerous show-stoppers among them.
"We hope these fish grow to 11 inches," said Cummins. "Fishermen might even take an occasional 12- or 14-incher. Instead of 'put and take,' we call this 'grow and take.'"
Cummins said last week's fish are likely already distributed throughout Fagan Branch, feeding on invertebrates and aquatic insects. Resident bass will possibly feed on some of the trout, not the other way around.
"As the lake starts to warm up they'll hang in the conditions they find comfortable," said Cummins. That'll likely be a 20-foot wide band of water in the 50 to 60 degree F temperature range, which begins approximately 25 feet deep to roughly 45 feet deep.
So...now that rainbow are successfully in Fagan Branch, how to get them out?
"I once caught an 8-pound carp on a fly rod at Green River," laughed avid outdoor sportsman Shelton Young.
"Hey," he brightened, "I'll bet the float and fly techniques used by small mouth bass fishermen would work."
Cummins thought traditional fly fishermen might enjoy success during wintertime.
But, he believed, fishing at night with lights during spring and summer months for rainbow trout at Fagan Branch, using traditional baits such as corn and worms, will be a true, new and unique fishing opportunity.
Local fly fisherman Bruce Hayes said using slow-sinking fly line with weighted nymphs, wooly buggers and copper johns could proved successful fly fishing techniques.
He was already dusting off his creel, getting ready to fish for rainbow trout at Fagan Branch.
"Oh yeah, I think it's pretty cool and it makes me happy," said Hayes. "I don't know how happy I'll be until I see what's in my creel. But we'll see."
Anglers, unless license exempt, must purchase a trout permit to keep trout. The daily limit is eight fish.
The trout permit is $10 in addition to a fishing license, and is included in the annual Sportsman's License purchase.
Go ahead and buy a trout permit if you're fishing, especially if you intend to fish at Fagan Branch, urged Cummins.
"By doing so you're supporting unique fishing opportunities like this."