Growing up in Western New York, there were always a few “opening days” that you looked forward to every year – the deer opener, the pheasant opener, the bass opener, the walleye opener and the inland trout opener. Sure there were other opening days that generated some interest, but these were the top five … for me anyway.
Back then, any opening day meant a day off school (unofficially) and the April 1 trout opener usually meant we were probably playing baseball in April, too. When I was in high school, I can remember the day and the plan like it was yesterday. I quickly teamed up with two fellow seniors (Jim Williams and Dan Carden) and before the first bell sounded we were headed to the Southern Tier to chase some hungry trout. However, I needed to be back for baseball practice in the afternoon. Yes, we caught some trout, had a bunch of laughs and enjoyed a very memorable adventure together. And I made it back for baseball.
The next day I found out from Superintendent McCarthy that leaving school and coming back for baseball was a no-no. His first question was: “Did we catch any?” Somehow he found out. And then, after explaining the liability concerns, told me to be careful out there … next time. Opening day for any hunting and fishing activity was a given. We grew up in that kind of environment. Most of my friends hunted and fished; many also played baseball and hockey. That’s just how it was. Things have changed.
Saturday,April 1 is the inland trout and salmon opener. Yes, there will be quite a few people out there enjoying opening day, but a little bit of the luster seems to have been lost. Great Lakes tributaries off Erie and Ontario are open all year; some inland waters are open year-round for trout; and catch-and-release sections have opened up new areas at a time of year when fishing was normally shut down.
Heck, anglers were on the Upper Cattaraugus just downstream from the stocking truck last week catching browns in a catch-and-release, artificial-only section … just to tackle some trout and scratch that itch. Nothing against them, but that has to take some of the shine out of opening day. Score some points against for losing the anticipation factor.
“The mild winter really hasn’t affected the trout opener forecast for this year,” says Scott Cornett, Region 9 fisheries biologist for the Department of Environmental Conservation. “We’re ahead of the game with fish stocking because the lakes were ice free the end of February for the most part.”
Quaker, Red House, New Albion and Case lakes were stocked last month, Harwood Lake was stocked March 1 and each of those Cattaraugus County lakes are open all year to trout fishing.
Stocking trucks from Randolph and Caledonia hatcheries have been transecting the region, dumping in nearly 64,000 rainbows, browns and brook trout before April Fool’s Day. Of that total, over 7,500 were 2-year-old browns 14 to 15 inches long. More than 10,000 additional fish will be stocked in early April. There will be more after that. The Randolph Hatchery Stocking Hotline number is 716-358-4950.
Hopefully the rain that we received earlier in the week won’t be too much of an issue by creating high, muddy water conditions. It’s good to have a back-up plan … just in case. Watch where the rainfall is Thursday and Friday; stay away from the bigger, longer streams if they are in the rain zone.
“There are certain areas that receive more pressure than others,” Cornett said. “The time of year makes a difference, too. Opening day and the first two weeks of the season is when most people are out. After that, fishing pressure drops right off.”
Some of the areas he pointed out included Upper Cattaraugus, East Koy and Ischua creeks, as well as the Genesee River from the Belmont Dam to the Pennsylvania border (where they are looking for dairy cooperators by the way; call 372-0645 to sign up). The Ischua seems to fish better when the conditions are right and the season is on. Biologists (and fishermen) have also noticed that preseason fish stocking doesn’t seem to work there. We’ll probably see stocking in the second week of April instead.
We definitely need to get some younger blood involved, and Alberto Rey’s “Children in the Stream” program out of Fredonia to teach more kids the art of fly fishing is a step in the right direction (www.albertorey.com). The WNY Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Lake Erie Chapter of the International Federation of Fly Fishers are doing their part to educate the next generation of anglers. The Erie County Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs (and affiliated clubs) has an excellent “Teach Me to Fish” program that turns out hundreds of young anglers every year. However, we still seem to be only scratching the surface. Parents need to be more pro-active. Keep that in mind.
As far as some opening day tips to share with fly and bait casters, here’s some advice from a couple local experts:
Nick Sagnibene of Ellicottville: “Probably my first tip for the opener would be to not be afraid to walk away from the easy access (and stocking) points! Stocker fish move more than people think and they can really put the distance on once they are released. With a spinning rod, worms and Mepps spinners will work. An assortment of nymphs or a small bugger of many colors will also work very well for trout.” Nick operates a guide service out of Adventure Bound on the Fly in Ellicottville.
Author Rick Kustich of Getzville: “Early spring on the southern tier trout streams is a good time to use a variety of nymph patterns with dead drift techniques. Patterns such as a weighted stonefly, bead head hare's ear or bead head pheasant tail are all top producers. In cold water conditions, fish the flies low and slow. When the water is up and off-color after a spring rain, streamers that represent sculpin or shiners can bring some big trout to the net. Focus on structure such as log jams and overhanging brush. If the air temperatures warm in the afternoon look for some of the first hatches of the season - early black stoneflies, blue quills, and paraleps.” Check out Rick’s fly fishing books at www.rickkustich.com.