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Spring 2003 Trout Outlook
By Patricia L. Hamilton
Principal Fisheries Biologist

As trout anglers gear up for the season opener on April 12th, streams and lakes throughout the state are being replenished with trout. As expected, the Pequest Trout Hatchery has done a superb job in rearing over 575,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout for the spring season. With yet another repeat performance we hardly give their efforts a second thought. But make no mistake…. Stocking troutThe hatchery staff babied these trout for over a year and a half in preparation for this spring. While other trout hatcheries in the tri-state area were impacted last year by the drought, cold water from the wells supplying our hatchery continued to flow. The result is a robust crop of trout that is being shipped out daily since late March to waters throughout the state.

Last year the spring rains never came, and while our trout hatchery suffered no ill effects, it was an entirely different story for our streams and reservoirs. Even before the arrival of opening day we were scrambling to check on water flows and levels. In some cases the situation was so dire that at the last minute trout were diverted away from their usual destinations. We didn't like depriving anglers of trout at some of their favorite haunts and this was done only when absolutely necessary. Because anglers could see the drought-related problems first hand, these emergency measures were tolerated well and we appreciated their understanding during this difficult period.

This spring it's quite a different picture as Mother Nature has been very generous with the rain and snow. With the exceptionally cold winter, Stocking truckwe were initially concerned that some lakes and ponds might still be frozen come opening day. But a break in the weather, a few warm days, and those fears were put to rest. Yet, even with less than week to go before the season opener the weather continues to challenge the stocking crews. A freak snowstorm dropped 4-10 inches of snow across the state and suddenly the going got rough. But thankfully it was only a temporary setback. The seasoned stocking crews, composed of Division employees and Wildlife Conservation Corps volunteers, know how to take it in stride and get the trout to their new living quarters. This year folks are more likely to notice our hatchery trucks as they travel their stocking routes. They have been given a new look, with some eye-catching banners that will capture the attention of anglers and entice others to take up the sport of fishing,

"Why all the hoopla surrounding opening day?" a reporter recently asked me. I told him it's a rite of spring, a tradition, the end of cabin fever, and signals the start of a new fishing season. The playing field is level, in that the stocked trout are naïve, having not learned to be selective in their choice of food. The stocked trout are plentiful, and even inexperienced anglers stand a decent chance of catching a few trout. Although the Division will continue to stock trout every weekday through the end of May (daily stocking information is available through the Trout Hotline, 609-633-6765, and online), it is the opening day weekend that always garners top honors for angler turnout.

Not all trout anglers wait for the season opener to start fishing for trout. Some great fishing opportunities, for freshly stocked trout, can be had during the three weeks prior to opening day on stream stretches regulated as Trout Conservation Areas (except the Claremont stretch, which has wild trout). These areas are now intentionally stocked in the very beginning of this pre-season period (this spring it was March 24th). Nice brown troutAnglers who delight in using artificial lures can trout fish to their hearts' content, provided they practice catch and release. Holdover and Trophy Trout Lakes are also open to fishing and big rainbows are often caught from the shores of Round Valley Reservoir this time of year. Anglers have also recently (early April) reported several catches of sea run brown trout in the Manasquan River (trout fishing is legal below Bennetts Bridge). Anglers can also experience fishing for naturally reproduced trout in numerous headwater streams in north Jersey. See the Freshwater Issue of the DIGEST for information on all regulations.

With nearly 200 trout-stocked streams and lakes awaiting them, trout anglers are faced with a wide array of choices on opening day. New to the trout program this year is Pohatcong Lake, located in Ocean County, which expands trout fishing opportunities in south Jersey. Pine Brook (Monmouth County) was permanently dropped from the stocking list because of poor access and low angler usage. An ongoing rehabilitation project at Verona Park Lake (Essex County), and a dam problem at Bostwick Lake (Cumberland County) has caused us to temporarily halt trout stocking at these waters this spring. Other than these changes, all waters that were on the spring stocking list (PDF file, requires the Acrobat Reader, available free from Adobe) last year are again slated for stocking this spring.

On opening day, seasoned trout anglers typically arrive on the scene early to jockey for a favored spot. Some stand in icy cold water for a half-hour or more before they can legally wet their line, to be certain of securing a choice location. Anglers who prefer fishing ponds and lakes do not have to endure that sort of body-numbing experience. But regardless of location the morning air will likely be chilly and the hands numb from the cold. Whether or not the trout and weather cooperate, the anticipation, camaraderie amongst anglers, and exhilaration of being out-of-doors are all part of this traditional recreational experience. Where will you be at 8 a.m. on Saturday, April 12th?

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