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Naples Derby kicks off trout season

Trout catching can be tricky especially on a Sunday April Fools Day outing.

With all that warm winter weather and a spate of summer-like early spring heat, area anglers had some qualms about trout presence in rivers and streams for the April 1 season opener.

During the 51st annual Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby, Naples resident and resident stream watcher Wayne Dixon said that he saw his first trout running in the "big digger" section of Naples Creek on Jan. 27 this year. Others reported seeing 'bows moving out of lakes and into western Finger Lakes streams earlier and throughout that warm winter season.

Nonetheless, trout derby registrations were solid, falling to 360 and just below the 400 mark set last year during the 15th anniversary trout-season opening derby.

As seen at many other opening-day sites around Western New York, Naples anglers got onto clear creek waters with respectable levels for fish movement. They did. Dixon got a three fish limit, including a 6-pound 'bow by about 7:10 a.m. But when he arrived at derby headquarters in the Naples Fire Hall he saw that Naples anglers Dave Gentner III had already checked in with the First 3-Fish Limit Award entry.

Dixon went back to check out streams and see how things were going for fellow fishermen. At the famed Eel Pot section of the creek above the village he kept company with young Jordan Johnson, 4, of Hilton. Jordan, fishing with his mom, Jessica Johnson, exhibited the intensity of a veteran competition angler. Wearing his polarized sunglasses to better see fish movement, he used his 3-foot jigging rod to repeatedly and energetically cast sinker and egg sack into the rising and stained creek waters.

A steady rain and light snowfall lifted stream levels and sent muddied waters down every branch of the creek's watershed. Nonetheless, Jordan and dozens of other stalwart youths such as Camren Pustulka, 8, of Riverside kept trying to catch a trout until the contest end at 5 p.m.

Camren fished with granddad Tom Pustulka, grand prize winner in the 2008 Naples contest. On this dank, rainy afternoon, Pustulka seemed to beam more with pride in setting up his grandson's fishing rigs than previous contests wins.

This year's Grand Prize winner, Jim Perkins of nearby Bloomfield, got in on the pre-deluge run early, using an egg sack to hook into a 6.3-pound rainbow at 8 a.m. in the "Glen" section of Naples Creek.

Perkins enjoyed sharing fish-catching details but wanted all to know that he was dedicating this win to his late brother Leonard Perkins Jr. of Caledonia who died Nov. 20, 2011 at age 53.

More than a half century of Naples Derby contests brings family names and fish stories to the fore. Louis Abbondanzieri, a previous Grand Prize winner, has fished the derby since it started in 1961. Abbondanzieri used egg sacks to catch two trout and keep one 3-pound male. Like Pustulka, he showed a much greater interest in seeing that his grandson, Sam Abbondanzieri, age 12, won the Boys Under Age 16 Award.

Mike Keenan of Naples had a birthday just in time to enter and win the Over 65 Trophy with a 25-inch, 5.7-pound entry.

Jack Bezek of Webster had a 6.2-pound rainbow that stood as tops in the Men's Division all day. Deb VanOrman of Naples took the Women's Division with a 4.1-pound 'bow.

John Nogaret of New Berlin, east of Cortland, does custom fishing-rod building and travels to the Naples Derby each April 1 to donate prizes. This year he provided two stunning spinning rods for a deserving boy and girl entered in the derby.

Given fears of warm weather curbing trout presence in streams and a mid-day rain, derby officials checked in 108 entries by mid afternoon, slightly more than the previous year with more entrants.

Good trout numbers remain in Naples Creek and area waters where trout anglers can look forward to a good spring season and derby officials are planning to distribute more cases of Hazlitt Wine to fish-catching entrants in the 2013 Naples Derby.