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Trout stockers have been busy

Trout stream trekkers around Western New York will have some sizeable stock to stalk when the inland trout stream opens on Wednesday.

“We were able to get to every stream stocking site,” Department of Environmental Conservation Randolph Hatchery Manager Rich Borner said during a Tuesday morning tanker-truck loading session.

This hatchery will stock about 250,000 brown, rainbow and brook trout in area streams, ponds, bays and lakes between March 18 and sometime in early June, depending on weather and water conditions.

“Lakes and ponds are still frozen over and we won’t get to them until April, sometime after the opener,” Borner added.

But as the hatchery crew netted trout from ponds it became obvious that this year’s stock of yearling and 2-year-old brown trout did not suffer in size through this past season’s prolonged, cold and snowy winter.

“Our problem here is predators more than weather,” Borner said, which has included some unusual sightings of fish killers seen this past winter.

Along with the legions of raccoons, mink, herons and grackles, and mergansers, Borner watched mallard ducks feed on fingerling trout, a duck species he had not previously seen feeding on hatchery stock.

“Herons are the biggest problem. We lost about 50 percent of our stock to them,” he said.

The hatchery has 24 inline smaller ponds, three larger ponds and two round ponds connected below an Artesian well source above the pond complex. Ponds containing the larger 2-year-old brown trout have metal roof coverings, which the herons can sometimes evade.

For the year-old stock, the hatchery crew has installed an 8-foot netting fence to curb land creatures such as mink, raccoon and other fish eaters. The crew then strung mono and braided fishing line between the fence posts to slow the flights of herons. It works. But some herons are agile and adept enough to glide into the pond between fish lines and then make it skyward with their catch without being tangled in the mono or braided lines.

Borner noted that funds have been approved for upgrading and improving the hatchery’s infrastructure. Randolph is perhaps the last of the state’s 12 hatcheries that still has gravel bottoms in their concrete ponds; many of the pond walls consist of concrete that was poured in 1935. Improvement work is slated for 2016.

Despite all this predation and loss, the Tuesday stockings of 2,000 yearlings and 600 2-year-olds brown trout saw all fishes successfully making their way into open waters of the upper Cattaraugus Creek above the Route 16 bridge by midafternoon.

During a ride-along with Barry Hohmann, fish culturist and adept tank-truck driver, we saw promising stream conditions along the Catt from Arcade down stream to Yorkshire. Most sites were open; only a couple streams needed some ice chopping before volunteers could pour buckets of brown trout into moving waters.

“The volunteers make this what it is,” Hohmann said before and after he and the many volunteers made well-placed deliveries at bridge and streamside sites. Helpers from Arcade Conservation, the Alden Rod & Gun Club and Springville Field & Stream all pitched in on the fish-filled bucket brigade.

Stocking tanker trucks are equipped with hose gear that could be connected to tanks and have culturists/drivers release fish from bridges and sites near roads. But the corps of seasoned-veteran volunteers, some logging more than 30 years of service, know each rill, oxbow and stream juncture, distributing the trout to key places where they will better at adapting, surviving and being around for the opener and well into the warm-water season.

“There’s still good trout fishing here in July,” said volunteer Gene Pauczyk as we watched fleet-footed volunteers carry buckets down to the juncture of Cattaraugus and Clear Creek. Clear, and many other Catt feeder streams, supply cooler water needed to keep trout live and lively as the warm-weather season unfolds.

Inland lakes such as Red House, Quaker, Rushford, Harwood, Case, Cuba and Lime, as well as Lake Erie and public-access ponds, will receive their allotments of brown, rainbow and brook trout when ice cover has melted and crews can get fish to popular fishing sites.

Licenses and guides

Many a hard-water fisherman got onto the ice and fished this past winter, but typically the April 1 start of the trout season is a busy time for warm-water anglers to renew their licenses.

Each year the DEC had issued a “Freshwater Fishing Official Regulations Guide” Oct. 1 along with a hunting guide for the start of the hunting and trapping seasons. Now, with a change in fishing license renewal procedure that validates license terms from the day of purchase, the DEC has held off printing a new guide until April 1 this year.

The newly-printed guide includes a listing of recently approved changes in fishing regulations, many of which apply to angling in Western New York waters.

The guide’s cover art features an angler holding a Chautauqua Lake musky, and Niagara Musky Association officials Tony Scime and Scott McKee have produced an informative “Muskie 101” illustrated article on pages 26 to 29 of the guide.

Musky season will not open until late June, but trout anglers can catch and either release or keep for consumption on Wednesday. The creel limit for trout is generally five fish, but remember to only keep two of those 2-year-olds that measure 12 inches or more.

Look for a detailed summary here next Sunday of opening-day catches and awards won during Wednesday’s Naples Trout Derby.