Mild spring may pave the way for pre-season trout stockings

Albany — In a typical spring, many – in fact, most – of the state’s trout waters don’t receive stockings of trout prior to the April 1 opening day.

But this may not be a typical spring.

A mild winter and a lack of any major snowfalls has potentially set the stage for good early season stream conditions that will allow DEC fisheries personal to plant more trout than normal ahead of the April 1 kickoff.

“We don’t do a real lot of pre-April 1 stocking, but we do some,” DEC Fisheries Bureau Chief Phil Hulbert said earlier this month. “We like to have the waters warm up a little (before stocking trout). But the regional managers feel it’s important to get some fish out, and they identify waters where stocking is appropriate, weather permitting.”

And as of late week, the weather was poised to allow for many streams across the state to potentially receive their trout allocation prior to opening day, which historically offers cold weather, high waters and less-than-ideal fishing conditions.

“So far the streams look great,” Hulbert said. “But it’s always a seat-of-the-pants adjustment if the weather doesn’t cooperate.”

Even in the North Country, some waters are stocked with trout ahead of April 1 to give anglers the opportunity to observe the season kickoff. In the Southern Tier, a pre-season stocking list is already circulating, with numerous waters tentatively scheduled to receive trout reared in DEC’s Bath hatchery. Included in that list is the Cohocton River, Cayuta Creek and Owego Creek and its East and West branches. 

Statewide, DEC officials said trout production this year was solid.

“It’s looking pretty good,” Hulbert said, noting that over two million trout will be stocked across the state by the end of May.

That number includes:

• about 1.6-1.7 million yearling brown trout of about 8-9 inches in length. That figure represents about 86 percent of DEC’s total stocking policy maximum for all waters.

“It’s a couple percentage points better than last year,” Hulbert said. “But anything over 80 percent is normal for us. We lost some yearling capacity when raising 2-year-old browns.”

DEC’s 2-year-old brown trout numbers are at about 96,000, which is 100 percent of the department policy.

• about 130,000 yearling domestic brook trout, which is down this year to about 80 percent of DEC’s overall stocking policy. In the past that number has approached 160,000.

DEC Superintendent of Fish Culture Jim Daley said some brook trout broodstock fish were lost last year due to predation by mergansers at the state’s Randolph hatchery, and that impact is showing up in this year’s numbers.

In addition, brook trout experienced a poor “eye up” rate during the early rearing process, which led to fewer fish.

• about 360,000 domestic rainbow trout, which is 100 percent of DEC’s policy and up from 2014 when die-offs knocked that number down to about 280,000.

The bulk of the state-reared trout are stocked during May when water conditions improve. 

DEC’s trout-rearing efforts are the backbone of its hatchery program, with 12 facilities statewide. But other fish – notably walleye and muskellunge – re raised at select hatcheries. In all, DEC stocks over 300 lakes and ponds and about 3,000 miles of streams each year. 

New York state is also blessed with solid lake runs of spawning rainbow trout in Finger Lakes tributaries like Catherine Creek, Naples Creek and the Cayuga Inlet (Danby Creek), as well as outstanding fishing in the Great Lakes tributaries. 

Under general statewide regulations, there’s a five-fish daily limit but no size restriction. The season runs through Oct. 15 under general regulations.

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