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Feed & release

Homegrown fishery aims to help revive the Millers River

  • Pete Mallett holds a large rainbow trout that he named Walter after the big fish that was caught in the movie On Golden Pond. The fish will be released somewhere in the Millers River. Pete is president of the Millers River Fisshermans Asso. Inc. in New Salem.

    Pete Mallett holds a large rainbow trout that he named Walter after the big fish that was caught in the movie On Golden Pond. The fish will be released somewhere in the Millers River. Pete is president of the Millers River Fisshermans Asso. Inc. in New Salem.

  • This is inside the place where Pete keeps is fish untill he releases them. Pete is in the back right corner.

    This is inside the place where Pete keeps is fish untill he releases them. Pete is in the back right corner.

  • This is the buliding where the trout are housed/ In the photo is Pete and his dog Buddy

    This is the buliding where the trout are housed/ In the photo is Pete and his dog Buddy

  • Pete's hand is on a rainbow trout and below that is a smaller brook trout

    Pete's hand is on a rainbow trout and below that is a smaller brook trout

  • Pete feeding his trout.

    Pete feeding his trout.

  • Pete Mallett releases some Rainbow Trount 14 to 18 inches long into an undisclosed location on the Millers River. Pete is Presdent of the Millers River Fishermans Asso. Inc in New Salem Ma

    Pete Mallett releases some Rainbow Trount 14 to 18 inches long into an undisclosed location on the Millers River. Pete is Presdent of the Millers River Fishermans Asso. Inc in New Salem Ma

  • Pete Mallett holds a large rainbow trout that he named Walter after the big fish that was caught in the movie On Golden Pond. The fish will be released somewhere in the Millers River. Pete is president of the Millers River Fisshermans Asso. Inc. in New Salem.
  • This is inside the place where Pete keeps is fish untill he releases them. Pete is in the back right corner.
  • This is the buliding where the trout are housed/ In the photo is Pete and his dog Buddy
  • Pete's hand is on a rainbow trout and below that is a smaller brook trout
  • Pete feeding his trout.
  • Pete Mallett releases some Rainbow Trount 14 to 18 inches long into an undisclosed location on the Millers River. Pete is Presdent of the Millers River Fishermans Asso. Inc in New Salem Ma

Pete Mallett steps out of his Stone Hill Road home in New Salem and finds the morning sun has already started to heat the cool April breeze.

He heads across the yard with his 4-month-old golden retriever-boxer mix Buddy to a 30-by-50-foot enclosure that houses the 3,000 brook and rainbow trout he is raising.

“Hatchery fish are just like kittens and puppies,” says Mallett, who picks up a bucket filled with grain and protein pellets to feed salmonids of all sizes. “They see you every day and they know that you are coming to feed them. They’ll follow you anywhere after a while.”

Mallett says the only problem with that is that once he has raised and released the trout, they’ll follow other people who approach the river, tributary or lake he puts them in, thinking they are going to be fed — but many times, they become the meal.

“It just makes it too easy for the fishermen, and most of them like a good challenge,” he says.

So, he tells fishermen to wait a few days after he has released them, says Mallett.

“The fish will eventually move to other areas, they acclimate,” he says. “They won’t all stay with each other, so they get used to living free in a very short time. Then, they become more of a challenge.”

Mallett says most of the fishermen he knows like the thrill of catching the fish, but enjoy the fight that ensues even more.

Mallett throws a handful of pellets into the first 1,500-gallon tank and close to 1,000 trout jump and thrash about. Mallett turns and says, “Gotta load ’em up twice a day to fatten ’em.”

He runs a small fishery, Stone Hill Trout Farm, a nonprofit that stocks many eastern Franklin County waterways, including Lake Mattawa, the Millers River and some of the river’s tributaries.

He says a lot of the fish are caught and released, but some fishermen keep what they catch and eat them.

He does a lot of stocking in the river at Bears Den in Athol, but won’t tell exactly where.

“There’s about eight miles of river up there,” he says. “You have to be a member of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association to find out.”

Mallett opened the farm on his property, which runs entirely on donations and membership fees, in 2004. He started with just a couple of tanks and has grown his farm to four 1,500-gallon and two 800-gallon tanks. He raises about 3,000 trout at a time.

He says it hasn’t always been easy.

The first year he started, he came out one morning to find all of his fish dead.

“The pump stopped working in the middle of the night and that was that,” he says. “Luckily, we caught it in time, so the fish were still fresh. I donated all of them to the gun club and they used them for game dinner night.”

Mallett says a couple of years ago, a winter ice storm destroyed his enclosure, but his family, as a Christmas present, rebuilt it for him.

He is licensed by Massachusetts Division of Fisheries and Wildlife and he says he is inspected and must be re-licensed each year.

The fishery has become the retired pipe fitter’s life. He spends hours each day, Buddy by his side, with his fish, both inside the fishery and in his backyard at the three small ponds he dug for the fish he keeps. He also holds derbies there.

But all that activity only lasts from early April through the end of May, when all of the fish have been released. He spends the rest of the summer raising baby trout that will be released the following year.

Ask the avid 61-year-old fisherman why he decided he wanted to open a fishery almost a decade ago and he tears up.

Not only did fishing become his passion very early on, but his son Shon Michael Mallett was his fishing companion, just as Mallett had been his father’s.

“Shon loved fishing — it was his life,” said Mallett, just barely able to choke the words out.

Shon Michael Mallett died in a automobile accident in 1993 at the age of 19.

“This is for him,” says Mallett. “He would have been 39 and I’m sure he would have spent most of his life fishing. He would have loved this fishery.”

But Mallett didn’t do it only in memory of his son, he says. He also did it for children — future fishermen — throughout the county.

“I loved going fishing as a kid and so did Shon,” he says. “I want every child to have that same opportunity to fall in love like we did.”

Mallett does a lot of stocking for local fishing derbies and also includes many local children in his release of fish into local waterways.

When he knows where he’s releasing or holding a derby, he works with organizations like the Orange Gun Club to get the word out so that children will come dressed and ready to help him dump hundreds of fish into the spot he has chosen.

Except for the fish that go into the Millers River and its tributaries, so that fishermen have some good-size fish to challenge themselves, the rest of the trout Mallett raises become derby fish. Or his pets.

“I get attached to some of these guys,” says Mallett, as he points to Walter, a 24-inch rainbow trout swimming slowly in one of the 1,500-gallon tanks. Walter is named after the large fish in the 1981 movie “On Golden Pond,” which won Academy Awards for acting and script writing.

“How could I possibly let him go?” Mallett asked earlier this year.

Walter was the largest at the fishery this year and Mallett had planned to keep him. But, he started having trouble with otters killing the fish in his backyard ponds, so he decided to let Walter swim free.

Now, however, Mallett has Buddy, who takes his patrol duties seriously. Otters haven’t been a problem and even great blue herons stay clear.

“I haven’t lost a single fish since I got this dog,” Mallett said.

Mallett is president of the Millers River Fishermen’s Association Inc. and its $5-a-year memberships help with the costs of operating the fishery. He says donations from businesses located up and down the Millers River also help quite a bit each year.

One of the member perks is that they are the only people who know where some of Mallett’s prime release spots are located.

“My longtime dream has been to make the Millers River one of the best trout streams in New England,” he says. “We’re getting there. There aren’t many places you can go and catch a 22-inch rainbow trout this close to home.”

Beginnings

Born and raised in Athol, Mallett says he remembers riding with his mother to Farley Village in Erving when he was a young boy.

“I remember the awful smell coming from the Millers River,” he says. “I remember it was brown as it met with the Connecticut.”

“At the time, the Connecticut was clean and beautiful, but now it’s the opposite. The Millers is beautiful and clean and the Connecticut, well, not good.”

Mallett says today he spends a lot of time helping clean the river and the trails that lead to his hotspots.

He says even as a young child he felt sad about the condition of the river and knew he wanted to do something about it someday. Mallett says he has been fishing since he was 4 years old.

“I went with my father and one of his friends the first time,” he says. “I used a plastic pole with a fake hook, so I obviously didn’t catch anything. But, it was shortly after that I caught my first fish and was hooked — ha ha.”

He says it still wasn’t until several years later that he realized that very first outing had changed his life.

In the meantime, Mallett would head to the water with his fishing pole whenever he could.

“I spent my childhood working washing dishes and delivering newspapers,” he says. “When I’d head over a bridge or go by a dam while working, I always had the urge to stop.”

He says one day, when he was on the Main Street Bridge in Athol, he looked down and saw hundreds of fish jumping out of the water onto the riverbank.

“One of the local factories had dumped something and it was killing them,” he says, still saddened by the memory. “I knew then I had to find a way to make things better someday.”

Today

Mallett says he put a lot of his own money into opening the fishery and now depends on others for their kindness and generosity.

“I’m not making any money on this, but I don’t care,” he says. “It’s my hobby, my love, my passion. When you feel that way, you don’t need to be paid for what you do.”

Mallett says his fishery and the waterways he stocks are his playgrounds. He spends a lot of time releasing trout anywhere from 12 to 22 or 23 inches long into them and says he uses the releases to educate people, especially children, about fish, fishing, sportsmanship and respecting the environment.

He tags some of the fish he releases into the river, just so he can track them and see how far they’re traveling.

“Some fishermen have told me that they’ve caught a tagged fish and I happen to know where the fish started out, so that’s pretty nice,” he says.

Mallett says opening a fishery has taught him how important it is for everyone to take care of nature and the resources they have in their own backyard.

He says he has also learned that there are many people — men, women and children — who love fishing as much as he does.

Mallett’s fish are raised in 55-degree water and are given 24 hours to acclimate to where he releases them before he tells fishermen where they can be found.

He says the year he opened, he raised $5,000 and put 6,000 6-to-8-inch trout into the Millers River.

He takes about five trips each spring to larger hatcheries in the area to stock his fishery.

He says he spends whatever he raises each year on fish and takes more from his own pocket, if he needs to. He says he can’t give a specific amount, because it changes from year to year, depending on how many people and businesses donate and how much.

In his fishery, Mallet also has a nursery where eggs are hatched and he maintains a 15-foot raceway where he separates his fish into groups: those that will be released, those that will move to a bigger tank, and those that will go into one of the backyard ponds.

Mallett says, ironically, that he hasn’t eaten trout since he opened the fishery. When asked, he says he’s not sure why, he just doesn’t feel like it.

He says he will keep the fishery running and keep releasing fish until he can no longer do so — and he’s hoping that’s a good, long time from now.

“I want to put Millers River on the map before I’m done,” he says.

Membership to Millers Falls Fisherman’s Association is $5 per year. For $20, a member receives a topical map, which he says shows hills and trails of the area, of all of Mallett’s hotspots.

Send your membership fee or tax-deductible donation to: MRFA, 15 Stone Hill Road, New Salem, MA 01355.

For more information, call Mallett at 978-544-7126 or email him at: swimmingfree@hotmail.com.

Also visit: www.millersriverfa.org.

Staff reporter Anita Fritz worked at The Recorder from 2002 to 2005 and then returned in 2006. She covers Greenfield and can be reached at afritz@recorder.com or
413-772-0261, ext. 280.

Mike Phillips is a freelance photographer who has taken photographs of the Quabbin Region for The Recorder since 2000. You can check out his work at his Web site:
www.mikesphotos77.com/mywebs.

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