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Will Elliott’s outdoors column: Randolph Hatchery a stocking stuffer

Winter’s prolonged cold did not give a cold shoulder to the Randolph Hatchery trout stocking program.

“We have been able to stock every stream on time from the start of the schedule in mid March,” said hatchery manager Rich Borner on Monday prior to a stocking run with Barry Hohmann, hatchery fish culturist and avid outdoorsman.

Borner added, “The ponds and lake areas are still frozen and probably will not be stocked until the second week in April, but all the rest are good to go this trout season.”

Freezing conditions are not as harmful to yearling and 2-year-old trout stock as are fish-eating birds such as great blue herons. “We lose about half our stock at Randolph to herons throughout the year,” Borner said.

Crews begin each day netting trout for scheduled stocking at sites around Western New York. Borner pointed out the layout of concrete-walled lanes called A and B rearing ponds that hold the trout.

The A ponds have been rebuilt, with wall replacement and concrete bottoms that are shallower than the B ponds. DEC funding for improvements this coming year include two new stocking trucks and replacing the B ponds.

During the 2015-16 season the B ponds will be completed and enclosure covers/netting will be installed on the A ponds to deter predator birds and animals.

A scant few fish stocked on Monday showed tell-tale marks of bird beaks, but the overall stocking of 2,100 yearlings and 600 two-year-old brown trout that day went well.

Hohmann delivered trout at 12 sites along the upper Cattaraugus Creek from Java Center to the Route 16 Bridge at Arcade. All along the way he had high praise for the volunteers from area sporting clubs who assist in the stocking programs each day.

For example, Jim Noel of Chaffee met the stocking truck at the start and worked to the finish at Route 16. Noel also does wood duck box placement and studies purely as an unpaid hobby.

McKinley High School teacher Russ Lis brought a group of students in grades 9 to 11 to help haul buckets of trout from the tank truck to key places along the Cattaraugus streams.

“Only one of these kids has been here before, so they all are new to this and it helps them to understand this and other outdoors programs we study in class,” Lis said as they put sizeable brown trout into Catt waters along Route 39.

Hohmann expertly placed the tank truck in delivery areas that drivers of smaller vehicles would have difficulty entering and passing. A 30-year veteran of DEC service with 16 years at hatchery rearing and delivering, he deftly filled each bucket from tanks that windy, below-freezing day.

Near the end of the run he said of his work, “It’s great to do a job where everyone is happy to see you.”

Part of that happiness is the effective output of the Randolph Hatchery, which will stock a total of 182,000 trout this spring, including 10,000 2-year olds.

Borner noted that the year old stock averages 8 to 9 inches and two-year-olds are at 14 to 15 inches. Many of the stock that came from Hohmann’s tanks that day measured more than 10 inches for the yearlings and some measured close to 18 inches for the 2-year-olds.

The hatchery location happily provides conditions for fish rearing and stocking. The Department of Environmental Conservation facility opened in 1933 and was finished in 1935.

However, the hatchery site is just below a spring-fed pond where John Eddy built 16 ponds to rear brown trout beginning in 1868. This site has a long history and continues to this day with ideal hatchery conditions.

Anglers all around Western New York benefit from Hatchery Road deliveries in Randolph. The spring stocking program at Randolph continues until June. Look for weekly hatchery stocking sites and species in the Fishing Line column beginning this Wednesday.