The wait is over for people wanting to fish for trout in Union’s City Lake.

At least it’s over for those who are willing to catch and release the fish.

Union High School brought 38 students from three groups out Monday to watch and fish while the Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) stocked the lake with 2,000 trout. Conservation employees hooked up plastic tubes to tanks in the back of the truck. The fish slid down the bank into the water.

People could start fishing Monday but had to use lures, as live bait was not allowed, and return the fish after catching them. The program runs until Feb. 1. Then, anglers can bring the fish home before the water, which trout can’t live in below 70 degrees, warms up.

“Once May or June gets here, they’ll just die out,” Parks Director Chad Pohlmann said.

Stocking ponds like the one in Union gives people who might not be able to make it to Maramec Spring Park near St. James, the closest trout hatchery, a chance to fish for trout, said Jen Girondo, fish biologist with MDC.

“We try to bring it closer to home to provide another unique opportunity for fishing, so they don’t have to travel all the way to the trout park,” she said. “We maximize the number of anglers that can use or encounter the fish.”

Union’s parks and recreation department often gets feedback on the lake being empty with fish, Pohlmann said. But although the trout disappear quickly once anglers are allowed to keep them, the lake has been consistently stocked for years with catfish, bass and bluegill.

Some of the fish have figured out how to avoid fishing lines, Girondo said.

“A lot of times that happens in a heavily fished lake,” she said. “The ones that bite on the lure get pulled out pretty quickly. The others get educated.”

Improving fish habitat was a large part of the improvements to City Lake, which MDC worked on with the city. The lake reopened in 2017 after the dam was rebuilt following leakage.

“We allow the vegetation to grow in select places to allow habitat for the fingerlings,” Girondo said, referring to young fish about the length of a finger.

Although the truck carrying the fish arrived later than expected, the day was still special for Union High students in the agriculture science and freshman level biology courses and the Wildcat Reach program. Teacher David Kemp said it was the first project in a new partnership between Reach, which serves students with special needs, and the parks department.

Students will get training beneficial for the job market, Kemp said.

“It’s something neat for them to learn about our local parks,” he said. “Mr. Pohlmann has been really great in working with the schools.”