Swimmy I and Swimmy II swam to freedom in the cool waters in Saratoga Spa State Park on Wednesday morning after being scooped out of a hatchery tanker into buckets.
Quinn and Briggs Regan decided to name their brown trout while they stood in line, even though they’d only be with the fish for a minute or two.
“Since nine o’clock this morning we’ve been preparing to come here,” said Kelly Regan of Saratoga Springs, the boys’ mom.
Both Briggs, 6, and Quinn, 4, had released fish before, so they knew the drill. “We put fishies in the water,” Briggs explained while the trio waited in line with family friend Clarkie Logan, also of Saratoga Springs.
Logan was amazed by the turnout at the annual event, which has grown considerably since she used to bring her now-grown sons to the park to release fish. “It was nothing this size,” she said.
About 2,000 people filled the Geyser Picnic Area at the state park, enjoying the water and lounging on the grass. That’s double the usual crowd, said Alli Schweitzer, a park naturalist.
“I know the weather is definitely a factor,” she said. “Last year it was earlier and colder.”
Children also are off school this week for spring break.
The park has added activities to the tradition, including fly-fishing demonstrations, a craft stand and various environmental displays. “It ends up being more of a family day event instead of just the fish,” Schweitzer said.
For Hadley Donnelly, a display of water organisms was perhaps more interesting than the fish. The 2-year-old from Ballston Spa peered into jar after jar of bugs that live in the water before they reach maturity, such as mayflies and caddisflies.
“We got here and the line was really long, and she’s at an age where she’s happy just watching,” said her mother, Lynn.
Jen Tumey, assistant park naturalist for Grafton Lake State Park, set up the macro invertebrate display at the Spa park. She thought she’d catch the bugs herself with small nets before the event started at 11 a.m., but she got some unexpected help.
“I just had a bunch of kids help me collect,” Tumey said.
Their finds meant good news for the health of Geyser Creek, she said, explaining that it’s easy to tell how clean a stream is by which macro invertebrates live there.
“So far, the only ones that we found are the ones found in clean water,” she said. “If it’s polluted, they won’t be able to survive.”
Technicians from the Van Hornesville Fish Hatchery started handing out the fish at 11 a.m. and ran out of the 1,000 fish by about 1:30 p.m, Schweitzer said.
Volunteers dunked the buckets in a disinfectant designed to kill a fish disease before capturing a brown trout in a net from the tanker truck and putting it in a bucket with water.
Toward the end of the event, after running out of brown trout they handed out brook trout, Schweitzer said.
Jeff Trojan of Glenville was one of about 40 volunteers who helped with the stocking. “As long as the kids keep coming, we keep giving them fish,” he said.
The volunteers had three more stops Wednesday at other creeks after stocking Geyser Creek.