NEXT SATURDAY'S trout opener could see very few people on the trout streams.
Apparently, many have failed to get the message about whirling disease, so that those of you who have read the statements and understood them will have plenty of elbow room.
"We've been getting a lot of calls here in Olean," said fisheries biologist Paul McKeown. "Folks are worried about handling or eating trout."
No worries: The parasite that causes the deformations and "whirling" behavior that gave the disease its name cannot be transmitted to humans.
Unless you are a trout or salmon, or unless you happen to be a tubifex worm (which is an intermediary host for the parasite), you will suffer no ill effects from handling, cooking or eating a WD-afflicted trout.
The chance of seeing any WD trout here are slim. It was detected in New York hatcheries for the first time in 15 years of monitoring just last fall, and all the affected fingerlings were destroyed.
However, WD is known to occur in wild trout in several waters here, so you might pick up a fish with a black tail, indented head, skewed jaw or short gill covers -- all indications of the parasite's presence.
The Department of Environmental Conservation last week ordered that trout or salmon stocked in New York State waters by private individuals or organizations -- including out-of-state facilities that import trout and salmon for stocking here -- must be certified free of whirling disease. The regulation affects both the sellers and buyers of trout and salmon stocked under DEC permits or licenses.
Long term, the jury is still out about what the presence of WD may mean.
Short term, 90 percent of the trout promised area streams and ponds will be stocked, although the destruction of WD rainbows at the hatcheries may mean that brown or brook trout could be substituted for rainbows.
Though we now are blessed with year-round trout and salmon fishing both in the Great Lakes and several inland streams and ponds, April Fool's Day marks the true start of "fishing season" in many minds, so some rule changes are worth mentioning.
Lime Lake outlet on Route 16 in the Town of Yorkshire no longer will be stocked because of its high natural rate of reproduction, so it gets new restrictions, said regional fisheries chief Steve Mooradian.
"We're trying to give the browns and rainbows a little help, so the limit there will be five fish per day, with a 9-inch minimum size limit."
Clear Creek in Arcade also is now a naturally sustaining stream and also has a 9-inch limit, five fish per day.
Wiscoy Creek has a three-fish, 10-inch size limit for most of its length, and a new no-kill zone a half mile upstream and a half-mile downstream of the East Hillside Road Bridge. That area also requires artificial lures only. The trade-off? The stretch is open all year. Once it enters Allegany County, the Wiscoy reverts to the state-wide inland rules -- 10 trout daily, any size.
"Right now the streams are in great shape," McKeown said, "but, if it rains and they get muddy, early season anglers might prefer to fish one of the better trout ponds. They are not affected much by run-off."
Allen, Rushford, Case, Harwood and New Albion lakes are all stocked. Trout of any size may be kept, but a five-fish daily limit prevails. Those trout might be quite large, too, since the DEC stocks them with excess "brood fish" from the hatcheries each fall.
The DEC also stocks breeders in Allegany State Park's Red House Lake and puts smaller trout into Science Pond and Quaker Lake each spring. Any of these might be a choice for an outing with kids. Stop by the park police office to get a free fishing permit and the current rules.
Anyone over 16 must have a license, and those are available at DEC offices, town and county halls and some sporting goods outlets.
Although many species will not open until May or June, it is worth noting some rule changes.
Muskellunge in Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence must now be 44 inches long to be a "keeper."
The special license for Chautauqua Lake muskies was dropped last year -- although it is listed in the rule book, which was printed before the rule change. The size limit there is 40 inches. Muskies kept elsewhere in the state must be 30 inches long.
Bass won't open until the third Saturday in June, but Lake Erie (down the Niagara River to the Peace Bridge) has a special early season for bass from the first Saturday in May until the official state-wide opener: You may keep one per day, if it is over 15 inches in length. And the state record, 6 pounds, 11 ounces, was caught there last May.
On Cassadaga Lakes, bass get a slot limit: Put back any bass between 12 and 15 inches in size. That was done to keep the breeders in the system.
The 44-page rule book contains special regulations for waters all over the state, listed by county.
Tuesday's outdoor column on shoreline fishing contained an incorrect telephone number. To reach "Krafty Katcher" for a free catalog, call 1-800-KRAFTY-1.