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April 1 trout opener is still a special time

“A trout is a moment of beauty known only to those who seek it.”  -- Arnold Gingrich

April 1 is the traditional opening day of New York’s inland trout (and salmon) season. For many who are old enough to remember back in time, before there were trout and salmon in the Great Lakes, the season opener had a much different feel. It was a magical time filled with excitement and anticipation no matter how old you were.

My very first trout opener took place in and on Catharine Creek outside of Watkins Glen. My dad, Bill, Sr., packed up the trusty Pontiac station wagon and we made the trek down to the Southern Tier the night before. We slept overnight in the station wagon, a different kind of camping adventure that gave us early access to the water and the trout that were available.

I was 8 or 9 years old and I remember battling a fishing hole with another angler much older. I didn’t know much about stream etiquette, but I knew about sharing. I was at the spot first. It was okay when someone came in to fish next to me. When our lines became tangled, I didn’t know that anger was an emotion that was a possibility for that kind of situation. It left an impression.

After fishing much of the morning, it started to rain. Since we didn’t have adequate rain gear, Dad suggested heading into town for lunch and a movie at the Glen Theater. A movie! I had never been to a movie in a theater before. We watched “Von Ryan’s Express” on the big screen. I can still see Frank Sinatra running down the railroad tracks at the end, the conclusion of our getaway experience for my first trout opener. I had many other memorable “openers” along the way. We caught fish on most trips, but some we didn’t. Every single one was still special.

Today, Great Lakes trout dominate the streams from the fall to the spring with some of the best freshwater fishing in the world for steelhead and brown trout. You can literally fish year-round for fish that can tip the scales at better than 20 pounds. This may have taken a bit of the sheen off the April 1 opening mystique for inland waters. Throw in some year-round catch and release options in some inland streams and you can see that it could have an impact on perceptions and attitudes.

As you grow older, you realize that it’s not about the size of the fish or how many you catch, it’s about the total experience. It’s about escaping the concrete jungles that surround us, absorbing the healing qualities that all of nature has to offer us. It’s about a natural beauty in the water and the fish, as well as the surrounding environment – every bend in a stream looking different, every fish you catch showcasing its own colorations that are both unique and spectacular, every tree canopy granting us shadows of relief from the sun or protection for the fish.

You never know when the fishing bug is going to grab you. “My first actual opening day was when I was 22 years old,” says Chuck Godfrey of Cheektowaga, president of the Western NY Chapter of Trout Unlimited. “I was a senior at University of Buffalo, student teaching at Williamsville South, where I ended up teaching for 29 years.  I traveled to Clear Creek in Arcade, which was and still is my favorite stream for brown trout or rainbows.  At that time most of the fish were stocked fish and I caught quite a few.”

The state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) will be stocking over 2 million catchable-size trout in over 300 lakes and ponds, as well as in over 3,000 miles of streams across the state. Included in the mix will be rainbow trout, brown trout and brook trout. Nearly 100,000 of the brown trout will be two years old, a real treat if you catch one. To see a complete stocking list by county, visit http://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/30465.html. For DEC’s Region 9, you can also call the Randolph Hatchery Stocking Hotline at 358-2050. It’s updated weekly.

It doesn’t have to be about the stockers though. There are plenty of streams in Western New York that offer anglers an opportunity at catching a wild fish. For a list of wild trout streams in DEC’s Region 9, check out https://www.dec.ny.gov/outdoor/29286.html.

“If I can get out on April 1, I’d actually be down in Allegany State Park,” says Godfrey.  “There are several streams, such as Red House Brook and Quaker Run, which are stocked with trout in the Park, but my favorites are the smaller streams which aren’t stocked.  They have healthy populations of wild brook trout and they are my favorite places to fish in WNY.  The fish aren’t large – 5 to 6-inch fish is probably the average and a 10-inch fish is a true trophy – but you can’t beat the scenery of a backwoods stream in the Park or the beauty of a wild brook trout.  These streams are fairly small and infertile, and that 10-inch fish is probably 4 years old, so I don’t keep any just to protect the fishery.”

Drew Nisbet of Clarence is another local impact angler who is the Fishing Manager of the Orvis Shop in Williamsville. “The trout season opener signifies the official start of spring for me,” says Nisbet. “It’s usually a ceremonious turning point in WNY weather for the better. April 1 may be the trout opener for the put-and-take season but fishing for inland trout is a year-round pursuit for me. What April 1 typically brings is consistent water temperatures above 40 degrees which makes for active, healthy, wild trout in the natural habitat. I pursue inland trout for the thrill of seeking out the unspoiled beauty in the places that support wild trout populations. There is something so special about a stream-born trout that has survived from an egg to a respectable 14 to 16-inch size. Large wild trout in WNY can live to be in excess of 12 years old. This is a precious resource that must be treated with care and tread lightly upon when visiting the beautiful creeks of Cattaraugus, Allegheny and Wyoming counties, my favorite areas.”

Scott Feltrinelli of Ontario Fly Outfitters had this to say about the April 1 opener: “I think April 1 is important to take the younger kids to introduce them to the sport. It’s a good time to teach the young ones and get them involved with conservation and catch and release tactics. With my background stemming from saltwater fly fishing for 20 years and morphing into the tributary fly fishing, I can say that the inland game is my favorite of all. The ability to find solace, a piece of water alone to yourself and the challenge of catching a trout on a dry fly are all the allure I need.”

To each his own. Getting started is as easy as joining a club like TU or the Lake Erie Chapter of Fly Fishers International, two local groups that do an excellent job. A book to seek out for a bit of a short cut on locations, tips and tactics is J. Michael Kelly’s “Trout Streams of Western New York.” They are all gateways to help you discover the beauty of trout.

 

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