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Will Elliott: Rainbow trout keep biting in Naples derby

Naples Creek stream-water conditions and fish movement were close to ideal Monday morning for the 52nd annual running of the Naples Creek Rainbow Trout Derby.

Area residents and derby contestants witnessed solid numbers and some spectacular sizes of native rainbow trout moving into this major feeder stream at the south end of this deeply-sculpted Finger Lakes valley at the south end of Canandaigua Lake.

Tom Gurger, 62, of Honeoye first fished this derby at age 9 in 1960. He calmly reeled in a fourth trout at the base of the Eel Pot section of Naples Creek at mid afternoon Monday and said, “This is about the best I’ve seen opening-day Naples water since I started fishing this contest.”

His four released trout all measured in the 22-26-inch range. The leading derby entry at that point was more than 27 inches, so Gurger just hung out with his long spinning rod and kept tossing egg sacs at passing ‘bows.

Naples resident Frank Faber and daughter Brianna Faber waded just up current from the Route 245 Bridge at about 2 p.m. that day and continued flipping sacs into the modest-but-moving current under the bridge. Trout have to be 15 inches or more to keep.

“We haven’t got a keeper all day; we caught a smaller one earlier today,” dad said as Brianna smiled and sent another cast to the side of her dad’s line.

The afternoon chill was tolerable; some cloud openings allowing for brief spates of sunlight. But the morning stint was an endurance contest.

Anglers set up at sunrise began the contest in a cold rainfall that pushed through the valley with a northwest breeze. After a brief break, snowfall followed for most of the morning.

What kept many of the 390 contestants on stream waters was a continual presence of trout sightings and impressive catches. From the public accesses near the mouth at Canandaigua Lake through Digger Hole up to the Eel Pot, anglers were hooking nice fish throughout the day. The chill and overcast skies and slightly green-stained waters were just right for fishing that day.

Newly imposed fishing regulations now allow anglers to catch and possess only one rainbow trout taken from western Finger Lakes streams. The First Limit of Trout category was eliminated this year in the Naples Derby.

If the first “big” fish entry were in place, Women’s Division winner Charlene Redden of Rochester would have taken that trophy. “I was on the water just after 7 and got this fish at 7:25 a.m.,” Redden said after receiving a trophy and gift basket for the largest rainbow trout caught by a woman, a 24.3-inch, 4.22-pound female ‘bow.

Harold Ribble of Branchport caught the longest trout entered in the derby at 28.9 inches, but by weight his 7.885-pound fish was big enough to capture the Men’s Division.

Sean Cook traveled from Beaver Dams, south of Seneca Lake and north of Corning, early Monday morning to be in the Naples Derby and on the water at sunrise.

“I got this one at about 10 a.m.,” Cook said with a wide smile while holding up his 28.5-inch, 8.445-pound male rainbow for photographs after the contest ended. Cook’s mid-morning catch took top honors as Grand Prize winner.

As with virtually every other entrant and prize winner, Cook hooked his trout with an egg sac. Marty William, 11, of Williamson brought in his entry early, which held and won first place in the Boys Under 16 Division. Marty caught a 27.1-inch, 7.32-pound female trout.

Amanda Linehan, 12, of Rochester fished with dad, Tim Linehan, and took top honors for her 26.8-inch, 7.24-pound male entry in the girls division. Rochester angler John Kowalczyk turned in a repeat performance in the 65 and Older Division, catching and weighing in a male trout that measured 24.7 inches and weighed in at 6.615 pounds.

Scott and Cheryl Woodard present a special award to the Naples resident who weighs in the heaviest rainbow Trout. This year’s recipient, Ethan Hall, posted a 27.9-inch, 7.791-pound entry for the Mert Woodard Memorial Award. Woodard, a creek side resident and avid angler, was an active participant in the Naples Derby from its start and spent a lifetime mentoring area youths in the ways and wiles of stream-run trout.

As has become a Naples tradition, five young anglers seen fishing along the creek’s waters were given rod-and-reel sets to upgrade their trout-catching gear.

Joyce Doran, coordinator of this annual event, thanked everyone who contributed to and participated in this year’s derby. “All proceeds from this derby go directly into Naples community support projects,” Doran said of this fun fishing contest that awards anglers with trophy and merchandise prizes, not big-money payouts.

Leading among supporters of this derby in recent years has been Hazlitt Vineyards. Hazlitt took over the Widmer’s Winery at the north end of Naples Village and now offers free, walk-in wine tasting visits daily at the newly refurbished vineyard and processing facility.

Other opening options

The statewide opener for inland trout season came with the usual April Fools Day nonsense – verbally and from the weather.

While inland feeder streams in western Finger Lakes areas generally proved productive for rainbow trout, stocked fish in other areas around the Finger Lakes and along the Southern Tier stood stock still. Brown trout, the main species distributed as 1- and 2-year-old stock, were sluggish in lower 30-degree waters.

The good news for trout anglers generally is that the native rainbow trout at Naples Creek, Catharine Creek and smaller inland streams have just begun their spawning cycle. Mature, fighting-sized ‘bows should provide a fun fishery for weeks to come on inland streams.

As for stocked brown trout prospects, prolonged cold and good hatchery production should offer area anglers a continued spring run of browns well into May. Look for weekly postings of Department of Environmental Conservation hatchery stocking sites in forthcoming Fishing Line columns on Wednesdays.