FILLMORE – They wiggle and splash, thousands to a trough, united by a single thought – feed me. “They’re hungry,” said Ed Toves, assistant manager at the Fillmore Fish Hatchery, as he surveyed an outdoor rainbow trout pond on a recent morning. The fish react with each approaching footstep, stirring ripples along the surface of their 100-foot rearing pond. “The fish are always hungry. All they do is eat and grow.” Toves is part of a crew of eight state Department of Fish and Game staffers at the 64-year-old hatchery along the Santa Clara River a mile east of Fillmore charged with raising more than 1 million trout a year for anglers throughout Southern California. They’ll sit there for about two weeks – most will hatch into sac fries – named for the nutrient sacs hanging from their bellies that serve as their prime food source until they’re ready for the rearing ponds outside. “That’s what they’re all living on right now,” said Toves. “As soon as they absorb the sac, we’ll release them.” Just outside the incubator shed are two rows of concrete ponds – some 4,000 feet total – where the trout will spend the next year eating and growing in 59-degree water pumped out of four on-site wells. They sit under a protective cage of bird netting. On the other side, egrets and herons gathered around a drainage culvert – they know a good meal when they see one. A truck rolls past the ponds three to 10 times a day, spitting out meal. The pond bubbles in hunger as the mix of vitamin-enriched animal and vegetable matter hits the water. The fish grow about an inch a month on the 1,500 pounds of food the hatchery scatters each day, Toves said. “It’s just like taking care of a baby,” he said. “You try to ensure their health and well-being, and to make sure we have a good product for the public.” Besides feeding, Toves and his crew have to keep an eye out for diseases such as gill bacteria and scale mold. “The fish need constant attention,” he said. “We’re here for the angling public. A happy fisherman is what we’re striving for.” Come stocking time, grown trout are poured into a truck-mounted tank for transfer to area reservoirs. Last week, about 3,600 graduated, and fish and wildlife technician Stephan DeLongfield was ready to offer them a lift to Castaic Lake. He checked both the tank’s and the lake’s temperatures. If it’s too low or too high, the fish might end up in shock. The hatchery doesn’t stock fish in the summer. “They get really lethargic in the heat,” he said. “But 74 degrees is the cut-off.” The tank was 57 degrees, and the lake 60 degrees – just right, and DeLongfield uncovered the pipe on the side of the tank. Hundreds of trout hurled into the shallow edge of the lake, though some took a bit of pole-prodding before making for deeper waters. It’s a hard life for trout in the wild – they’re prey to other fish and birds. In fact, moments after their release, an osprey swooped down and snatched one out of the lake. “He’ll take it back to his nest,” DeLongfield said. “Not all of them will get eaten right away. But a good number will feed the bass in here.” And there are fishermen such as Parker Wright. The 15-year-old from Laguna Niguel was bass fishing lakeside when he chanced upon the stocking – he had a bite within seconds. “It’s a feisty one,” he said, reeling one in. He unhooked it and set it free. “I don’t call it fishing at this point,” DeLongfield said. “I call it catching.” Wright said he has been fishing for six years, and counts a 50-pound albacore caught in the oceans off Mexico among his prizes. “I want to become a professional some day,” he said. “It takes technique and patience.” Still, a few lucky ones might survive the year, DeLongfield said. “The big trouts – we call them holdovers – they might last a couple years,” he said. “They’ll come back and live to spawn another day.” [email protected] local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl eventThough not exactly sportfishing in the wild, the hatcheries satisfy the public’s demand for fishing without overtaxing California’s natural waters, as state officials intended. When the fish are about a year old – about 10 inches in length – they’re released into the lakes and streams between Kern County and Orange County. Last week, some 3,600 rejoined nature at Castaic Lake – they’ll either survive to spawn as their parents had, or be a meal for the ospreys, bass or fishing fans. “It’s straightly professional,” Toves said. “There are a little too many to name.” While the trout are nurtured in Fillmore, they were spawned some 200-300 miles away in either the Mount Whitney or Hot Creek hatcheries in the eastern High Sierra. Trays of 350,000 translucent orange trout eggs, each about the size of a cultivated pearl, arrive four times a year by truck and head straight for the incubator.