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Spring 2000 Trout Forecast
By Patricia L. Hamilton
Principal Fisheries Biologist

With record-breaking warm temperatures early this March, anglers' thoughts quickly turn towards the much-anticipated trout season opener. This year's frenzy on most of our trout-stocked waters will commence on Saturday, April 8th at 8 a.m. It takes 3 solid weeks of stocking to prepare nearly 200 streams and lakes for this important day. During this pre-season period, which begins on March 20th, the majority of our trout-stocked waters are closed to fishing. Though considered by some to be a form of torture, this closure gives all anglers an equal opportunity to fish for newly stocked trout on opening day. But, should you come down with a severe case of trout fishing fever between March 20th and April 8th, we have a variety of "over-the-counter" remedies that can alleviate your symptoms.

Did you know that there are more than a dozen trout-stocked lakes and streams that can be fished during the 3 weeks preceding opening day? You could try one of two Trophy Trout Lakes, Round Valley and Merrill Creek Reservoirs, where you can keep browns, rainbows and lakers (size and bag limits apply). Shoreline fishing at Round Valley heats up in March, when big rainbow trout cruise the shallows in a fruitless search for stream spawning habitat. Trout stocked in this big reservoir will be tagged this spring so that, with the help of anglers, we can study trout growth and harvest.

White Lake, acquired by Warren County in the fall of 1997, is the newest addition to our Holdover Trout Lake roster. While only 65 acres, it is 40 feet deep and has a reputation for producing big trout. We will begin stocking trout this spring and will also monitor their progress through a tagging study. The lake can be accessed by way of a car top boat launch off Rt. 521 (electric-only motors). Should you fish this, or one of the other 6 Holdover Trout Lakes during the pre-season period, keep in mind that any trout caught must be immediately released. In the weeks preceding opening day both the Trophy and Holdover Trout Lakes will yield primarily larger trout that have held-over from last spring's stocking. These waters are typically stocked either immediately before opening day or soon thereafter.

If you prefer streams, the Trout Conservation Areas (both Year Round and Seasonal) and "No Kill" stretch await you. Anglers may not be aware of a recent regulatory change on the Seasonal TCAs found on the Pequest and Pequannock Rivers. Starting this year these 2 areas can also be fished during the 3 weeks preceding opening day! Collectively these six trout streams offer 8 miles of fishable water at a time when all other trout-stocked streams are closed to fishing. Catch-and-release fishing applies to these special regulated areas and gear restrictions are in effect during this 3-week period. Consult the Fish & Wildlife DIGEST for specifics on all special regulation waters.

To further sweeten the pot, the special-regulated areas on these 6 streams will be stocked in the very beginning of the 3-week pre-season period (except for the S/Br. Raritan's Claremont stretch, which boasts wild trout). If that doesn't entice you to take a day off to go fishing, what will? If you can only break free for a weekend day of fishing, why not combine a fishing trip on the Pequest River with a visit next door to the Pequest Hatchery? The annual Open House, on April 1st or 2nd, features many interesting exhibits and activities for adults and children. New this year is a display of the specialized sampling gear used to capture fish, with Division biologists on hand to answer your questions. If you can't make the Open House, Pequest is open 10-4 daily year-round.

So, if you're afflicted with that trout fishing "bug," I hope you will follow one of the prescriptions listed above. If not, I predict that your symptoms will all but disappear come 8 o'clock, on the morning of April 8th.

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