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Randolph Hatchery fills stockings

Trout season opens on inland waters Thursday, but Department of Environmental Conservation personnel at the Randolph Hatchery and volunteer assistants are not fooling around in efforts to stock streams, ponds and other waterways in time for the April Fools' Day opener.

More than 50,000 trout will be stocked in area waterways during the spring stocking season in DEC Region 9 waters from stock reared at Randolph and the Caledonia Hatchery southwest of Rochester.

The Genesee River and Cattaraugus Creek receive greater total numbers, but the Ischua Creek stocking sequence Monday afforded a one-day view of an entire creek system, totaling 17 miles of trout-habitat waters that flow south into the Allegany River flowage.

Earlier, fisheries biologist Scott Cornett announced a trout-survival study program for this season and suggested I check it out. The delivery of some 3,300 trout on March 22 looked good, so I connected with hatchery assistant manager Rich Borner to see how they'd run that day. They did.

While heading to the Randolph Hatchery I passed Trevor Brady, hatchery technician and tank truck driver, on Route 242 at about 6:30 a.m. as he headed to the Caledonia Hatchery to pick up a load of 2-year-old brown trout. Those bigger browns average 12 to 15 inches when stocked and turn anglers' heads as they get placed in fishing waters each season.

But brightly colored brook trout stole the show that chilled, rainy morning. The survival study Cornett mentioned involved rearing numbers of brook trout along with the usual stock of brown trout. This year, personnel clipped one adipose (back) fin off the browns and brookies that would be stocked before the April 1 opening date.

"Both species stocked after April 1 will not be clipped so we can get a better idea of which survives better and when during the season," Cornett explained.

Anyone who has spent even a short time along New York State's trout streams knows the visual appeal of brown trout -- and the fight they offer on light tackle even from hatchery stocked fish.

Add the beauty of the brook trout, New York State's official fish, and just seeing these fish netted from hatchery rearing ponds made this cold, rainy day seem somewhat sunny.

Ever wonder how hatchery personnel can put a fairly precise count on the various species grown and stocked at sites each year? Fin clippers had to handle quantities of fish, but on disbursement days, the fish just get netted up and placed in one of two tanks each with six compartments on the back of a diesel-engine truck.

A handy displacement gauge on each of the truck's compartments measures the poundage of fish. One inch of displacement in a tank represents 80 pounds of fish added.

"We're estimating 2.9 fish per pound for fish about 9 1/2 inches, so we can get a fair count of fish placed in each tank for delivery," hatchery manager John Mellon explained as personnel netted one-year-old stock for the day's run.

For the larger 2-year-old browns, the 12-inch stock will average one fish per pound. Hence, a 1-inch rise on the displacement gauge means 80 fish are in the tank.

Thousands of fish entered tanks on both trucks as volunteers such as Jack Fogelsonger from Depew and area property owners met us at the first stop in Ellicottville.

"We like to scatter them along the way," Fogelsonger said as we carried buckets of mixed 1-year-old brookies and browns, with a few big 2-year-old brown trout from Trevor's truck. Rogerville Rod and Gun Club members assisted in the lower sections of Ischua Creek.

A couple of stops later we met up with a bus from Hinsdale High School. Instructor Warren Schulze brought 10 energetic junior and senior class students to assist in bucket brigades of fish delivered off creek banks and over bridge railings along the way.

Rainfall eased at about noon, but the students endured the drenching from above and the occasional wet and mud above shoe and boot tops.

"They put up with even worse rain and cold last year, and did a great job," said Jim Rambuski, the fish culturist and driver with whom I rode throughout the Ischua Creek run.

Rambuski, veteran of service at the Bath Hatchery and a decade at the Chautauqua Hatchery, shared interesting insights on area fish and wildlife, mainly muskies and deer, as he deftly steered the tank truck around fish access sites and farmland turnarounds.

The stocking sequence included stops at virtually every major public fishing access along the creek. But the no-kill (catch-and-release) section near town was intentionally avoided, allowing fish to acclimate a bit before the Thursday opener.

Rambuski noted that brookies tend to feed faster than brown trout. Fly anglers say the brookies feed heavily and usually get fished out quicker than most other trout. So the survival study this season should prove interesting.

Input on this study will help in obtaining accurate information. Anglers interested in cooperating in a DEC Diary Cooperator should check with Scott Cornett and sign on with the program at 372-0645.

Mellon and Borner both noted stocking conditions had been ideal in early March and current output looks great for opening day and trout fishing days thereafter.

Thank hatchery folk each time a trout tries to rip your line up or down some stream. Good aquatic technology, well designed gear, and competent management skills went on well before that fish fight.

e-mail: willodrs@gmail.com

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