A fervent -- and foolish -- annual ritual starts this week with the statewide opening of trout streams on inland waters.
Set each year on April 1, best known as April Fools Day, the annual opener draws anglers to public-access sites everywhere trout could be heading upstream in search of food and spawning sites.
This year, the foolery amplifies because the official starting time and date will be a half hour before sunrise on Saturday.
Western New York anglers have the good fortune of bountiful choices for trout stream, river, lake and pond fishing throughout the year, but the annual inland trout opener kicks things up a handful of notches.
Hatchery personnel at the Department of Environmental Conservation Fish Hatchery at Randolph have a stocking schedule that will have in place 62,660 trout -- mainly brown trout -- stocked in area waters by Friday afternoon.
From eastern Allegany County to southwestern Chautauqua County, hatchery trucks deliver both yearling and 2-year-old browns and some brook trout and rainbow trout each stocking season.
"The cold weather hasn't been a problem so far," said John Mellon, Randolph Hatchery Manager. High-water runoff settled down earlier this week and inland trout streams were in good shape for stocking.
Rich Borner, assistant hatchery manager, mans trucks to many of these sites.
"We rely, each year, on individuals' and club groups' assistance in getting out these trout," Borner said.
Hatchery trucks meet volunteer groups at key sites each day for three weeks before opening day. Helpers and DEC staff form bucket brigades anywhere that trucks cannot get close enough to a stream or pond to release fish through flexible tubing.
For a summary of all Randolph Hatchery stocking sites, call the hotline at 358-4950.
If rainfall and runoff raise and muddy stocked stream areas on opening day, DEC Region 9 offers anglers six inland trout lakes that have been heavily stocked and provide good access from shore or a boat.
Allen, Case, Harwood, New Albion, Quaker, and Red House Lake all receive yearling and 2-year-old trout and the occasional trophy-sized hatchery breeders. Closer to Buffalo, trout have been stocked in the East Branch of Cazenovia Creek, Eighteen Mile Creek in Boston, Ellicott Creek in Amherst State Park, Oppenheim Park Pond in Wheatfield, both ponds at Sprague Brook Park in Concord, and Hyde Park Lake in Niagara Falls.
For fishers seeking competition kicks on April 1, three contests offer anglers prize possibilities for trout and panfish catches.
The Naples Rotary Club stages its 45th Annual Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby, starting at 6 a.m. Saturday.
This derby, the longest continually-running, opening day trout derby in New York State, presents trophies and merchandise prizes to entrants in several divisions.
Contestants pay $6 for ages 16 to 64, $5 for those under 16 and free to anglers 65 and older. The grand prize goes to the entrant who weighs in the largest rainbow trout. Entrants who weigh in a rainbow receive a bottle of Widmer's Wine -- or grape juice for those under age 21 -- plus a drawing for merchandise prizes.
Last year's opener saw a flood of high, muddy waters in the Naples area and few fish entered throughout opening day.
Joyce Doran, derby chairperson, looks forward to a better opener this year. Anglers can register daily at Sutton's Sporting Goods in Naples during business hours or at derby headquarters until 6 a.m. on Saturday. For more details call (585) 374-2780.
The Riedman Foundation sponsors an opening day Trout Derby at designated areas of Irondequoit Creek within Powder Mills Park near Rochester.
This derby goes from 7 a.m. to noon. A $5 entry fee offers anglers prize possibilities in 10 categories. For more details and a downloadable entry form, go to the Powder Mills page of the Monroe County Parks Department web site (www.monroecounty.gov).
Chautauqua Lake crappie fishing, once an annual rite as anxiously anticipated as the statewide trout opener, has tailed off. But white perch have taken over as the plentiful and profuse -- if not the most preferred -- panfish species available to anglers at Chautauqua in early spring.
Other contests are biggest-fish entries, but this Chautauqua County Visitors Bureau White Perch Round-Up 2006 goes from April 1 to 29, with weekly and daily prizes for the heaviest weights totaled for legal daily fish limits.
A one-day tourney will be held April 29. Entrants can sign up at Hogan's Hut, or Happy Hooker Bait & Tackle; call the county hotline (800) 242-4569; or go to: www.tourchautauqua.com.