JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, wash. - When Russell Landing Marina manager David Crawford scoops up a hefty helping of nutrient-rich fish food he knows the show is about to begin.

"They know when I'm coming to feed them," Crawford said. "You can see them up near the surface."

With one flick of his wrist, a netted pen of more than 25,000 rainbow trout fingerlings explodes into a feeding frenzy that could put a school of feeding piranha to shame.

"We feed them and look after them until their release in the spring," Crawford said.

In a partnership with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, the marina plays host to two pens of trout that will make American Lake their home.

The fish not only help stock the lake for anglers but also provide a necessary balance to its ecosystem, Crawford said.

"Families love to come out and fish for them," Crawford said. "but, there are herons, eagles and other fish out here that rely on them, too."

Renowned for its tasty pink flesh, beauty and gameness, rainbow trout are a favorite among anglers.

They can really put up a good fight, Crawford said.

With their silvery scales that reflect sunlight in dazzling array of color, the aptly named fish can live for several years and at least one hearty specimen lived to the ripe old age of 11.

Crawford will only have to provide nourishment to the young trout until their release in spring. As adults, they feed on small insects, minnows, crustaceans and worms.

As the small, silvery fish settled down after the feeding, a wily heron landed on the edge of the pen. Luckily for the tiny fish, a protective net covered the pen and the heron flew away empty handed.

Doreen Merrill, a fish hatchery specialist with Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife's Puyallup Hatchery, said the state enjoys a solid relationship with Joint Base Lewis-McChord.

"We work with them annually with the trout," Merrill said.

A total of 55,000 trout were delivered to the pens at American Lake to be raised and released, she said. They grow rapidly.

"When taken to the pens, there are about 15 fish to the pound," Merrill said. "They are about a quarter of a pound at release."

The hatchery is responsible for raising the eggs and transporting the fingerlings to JBLM, she said.

Rick Wood is a reporter with Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16