"Oooo, I just squeezed his insides out," moans nine-year-old Caroline, who's mourning not the trout she aims to catch but the worm she's using to catch it. At the Fountain Rock Springs Trout Farm, outside Frederick, the rainbow trout are so numerous you can't help hooking them -- once you've gotten past the trauma of baiting your hook.
We've bought a dozen worms among four six- to-nine-year-old fishermen, but rented only two rods -- the better to keep fish hooks out of one another's eyes. Closing her eyes to the carnage, Caroline impales a worm on a hook and, following instructions by the farm's owners, pushes the button on the reel and swings the rod over a narrow stream crammed with trout. When that doesn't work exactly as advertised, she steps down practically into the water and throws the line into the thick of the trout.
Is the game unfair? Is it a no-win situation for the fish? After the trout have gobbled up a few worms -- at $1.89 a dozen -- and swum away scot-free, such questions become irrelevant. The only relevant one becomes how to avoid buying another can of worms, and you even resort to tearing the little critters into pieces.
"Just close your eyes and pull," advises a fisherman from whom I attempt to borrow a knife with which to cut the worms. This is something only time-hardened adults can do, and I am unanimously elected sole worm breaker. The shorter bait does wonders, and soon both Caroline and six-year-old Maddy have hooked trout so big the kids can barely hold up the rods. The management has supplied us with wire baskets to put our catch in, but no one told us we had to first get the fish off the hook. I consider cutting the line, but that would leave our second shift of fisherkids without hooks, so I brave what feel like trout teeth and gamely stick my finger into the fish's mouth. Luckily, another fisherman offers a pair of pliers and some expertise.
All around us, lines heavy with trout are being reeled in.
"Aaron finally caught one!" yells a child.
"Bite, bite," another urges the trout.
The trout are all hatched here and grow up in holding tanks fed by water from what's supposed to be Maryland's third- largest spring. The water, which is 52 to 54 degrees all year around, is perfect for raising trout. All these factors conspire to end their short but happy lives on the end of somebody's fishing line.
Within an hour, we've caught four, and I do some quick calculating. At the $2.99 per pound the trout farm charges, we have probably caught our budget's limit.
"Come on," I say, urging the kids toward the picnic grounds overlooking the trout ponds. "We can't afford to catch any more." GOIN' FISHIN' -- Fountain Rock Springs Trout Farm is open daily from 7:30 till dark. Admission is 50 cents for children, $1 for adults. Rods with reels rent for $3 and worms are $1.89 a dozen. All fish must be kept. Trout cost $2.99 per pound, and each one weighs about a pound. The management will clean your catch for 20 cents a pound. TO GET THERE: Take I-270 to Frederick and continue north on Route 15 to Biggs Ford Road. Turn right and continue to Fountain Rock Road. Turn right and follow Fountain Rock Road to the trout farm.