The season opener is just around the corner for Free State and First State sportsmen. Read on for the latest on top trout waters near you. (March 2006)
Creating and maintaining a topnotch recreational trout fishing program is a massive undertaking that requires input from a host of professionals within the scientific community, biologists, and individual anglers alike. Each season's stocking program requires teamwork from all three groups, without which state trout programs throughout the nation would be woefully poor at best.
While much of the work done by the private sector is volunteer labor, the year-round task of producing the fish is frequently done by state hatcheries, or in the case of Delaware's program, private hatcheries. Funds for these operations are usually derived from the sale of trout stamps, and a portion of monies generated by the sale of each state's freshwater fishing licenses.
Federal funds for each program are based upon license sales from the respective states and from excise taxes on fishing equipment and accessories. Unfortunately, these funds are dwindling, and if the decreases continue, recreational trout fishing programs nationwide will suffer.
The bottom line is maintaining a viable, recreational trout program requires that every designated trout stream be constantly monitored for water quality, temperature, water-flow, predator/prey relationships, and a host of other parameters. Additionally, when individuals who are involved with the programs note a problem, immediate steps must be taken to correct the situation. Studying a waterway's problem for years on end and doing nothing to resolve the problem usually results in the untimely demise of that body of water.
Maryland has an extensive freshwater trout fishing program, one that was transformed by now-retired Fisheries Service director Dr. Robert Bachman, a tireless individual who helped to create dozens of self-sustaining trout fisheries throughout much of the hilly region situated west of Chesapeake Bay. He was instrumental in transforming several streams from slow-flowing, highly acid, biologically dead rivulets to crystal-clear, cold bodies of water that support large numbers of trout.
When Bachman retired, the reins were taken over by Department of Natural Resources fisheries biologist Robert Lunsford, who with more than three decades of freshwater fisheries experience, not only perpetuated Bachman's programs, but also has been able to maintain a viable trout program in the face of decreasing funds.
"We will be adding golden (rainbow) trout during the 2006 trout season, which should make up 10 to 12 percent of the fish being stocked in some areas of Maryland. There will be a few locations where they will not be stocked, such as the Delayed Harvest and special management areas. But, generally, golden trout will be stocked in the put-and-take streams and reservoirs," Lunsford said.
Lunsford said approximately 400,000 to 450,000 rainbow, brown and golden trout will be stocked during the 2006 season, most of which will measure 10 to 12 inches long. In addition to the standard-size hatchery fish, significant numbers of larger, brood-stock fish will be introduced to many of the more popular streams. Some of these fish will tip the scales at 2 to 5 pounds.
Stocking will begin in mid-March and continue through mid-May, a time when water temperatures are still low and flows are usually relatively high. "Essentially, we address the problem of recreational angler cabin fever with our trout program. It's the first species of fish that many anglers pursue during the season, and to date, we still have trout stamp sales of about 70,000 annually," Lunsford said.
The Casselman River is a true success story, a body of water that was resurrected from the dead and is now among the most productive trout streams in western Maryland. This is a Delayed Harvest stream where anglers can catch and keep two trout daily during from June 16 through Sept. 30. During this particular time, anglers are not restricted as to the type of bait or tackle they can use. However, from Oct. 1 through June 15, the stream is designated as catch-and-release only, and anglers are limited to the use of artificial lures, including flies and streamers. The use or possession of any form of bait, natural or synthetic, is strictly prohibited. The provisions cover the stretch of river that runs from Interstate 68 downstream to the Pennsylvania state line, a distance of nearly four miles.
The river flows through some of Maryland's most rugged mountains, a region where much of the surrounding terrain is nearly vertical. This is where Lunsford said brood trout ranging from 3 to 6 pounds will be strategically placed during the first scheduled stocking.
While these fish will be scattered over a relatively large geographic area, the chances of catching one of these trophy category trout ranges from fair to good for anglers who are willing to hike to some of the more remote locations and fish the deeper pools. Granted, these are hatchery-raised trout, but after a few weeks in a wild environment, they seem to develop a fair degree of stream savvy and the ability to avoid predators. Consequently, you'll need to use every trick in the book to fool the big guys into taking your lure or fly.
Potomac River's North Branch
"We will be putting many bigger fish in the North Branch of the Potomac River as well," Lunsford said. "We stock this stream at several locations, such as Kitzmiller, Barnum and below Westernport. A significant stretch of this stream also falls into the Delayed Harvest category. This is primarily the segment that runs through the Potomac State Forest. This particular location contains quite a bit of near-vertical terrain, many remote pools (only accessible via a long hike) and good numbers of carryover trout that will tip the scales to 6 pounds.
Closer to metropolitan Baltimore, Deer Creek is a heavily stocked put- and-take stream located in Harford County. This stream provides anglers with a sure cure for a severe case of cabin fever. More than 5,000 fat rainbow trout will be placed in the stream beginning at the base of the Eden Mill Dam and continuing downstream for a distance of nearly six miles to the southern end of Rocks State Park.
Deer Creek flows through relatively large expanses of woodland, open fields and passes through the meadows of several farms before exiting the park and meandering another 15 miles to its confluence with the Susquehanna River.
On opening day, the stocked segment of the stream resembles some sort of streamside anglers' convention. Hundreds of fishermen from up to 100 miles away will converge on the creek's shores, all with hopes of catching a five-fish limit of fat rainbows in the first hours of daylight. More often than not
, the water will be ice cold, somewhat muddy from recent snowmelt run-off, and the fishing will be slow at best. However, if the preceding week's weather is dry, and daytime temperatures are a bit above normal, the fishing action will be red-hot.
"We had a real problem with our late-season stocking during the fall of 2005. September was the driest it had been in more than 100 years, and October didn't provide very much in the way of precipitation either. We were able to stock some rainbows last fall, but we also had to hold some until spring because many of the streams just didn't have enough water for the fish. These fish should measure 14 to 16 inches or larger and should provide anglers with a great opportunity to catch some exceptionally large fish," Lunsford said.
Lunsford said, contrary to popular belief, most trout are not caught during the first few days of the season. In fact, fewer than 25 percent of stocked trout are caught during the first few days of the season and fewer than 60 percent are taken during the entire year. "There will be plenty of trout available through much of the year in most of Maryland's colder streams, and even in some of the warmer streams where brown trout are available."
Lunsford said most of the more successful anglers are those who are willing to hike to remote locations and search out the larger fish. "I think the guys carrying the buckets of fish and doing the stocking are walking farther than the folks carrying fishing rods. It doesn't take long to fish out an area that's only 50 yards from where the cars are parked, but a deep pool situated a quarter mile from the road may not get any fishing pressure at all."
Lunsford said a new area has recently been opened for trout anglers, a five-mile stretch of the Patuxent River between Triadelphia and Rocky Gorge reservoirs. These impoundments are managed by the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission (WSSC). While the waterway is owned by the WSSC, the adjacent watershed property in this particular area is primarily private property.
Lunsford noted that property owners said they would allow limited access to recreational anglers; however, the bag limit will likely be two fish daily in this segment of stream, at least for the near future. The only problem anglers will have to contend with here is parking, and there have been some improvements in this area, particularly just below the Brighton Dam at Haviland Hills.
Craig Shirey is the new guy in town when it comes to Delaware's trout program. While Delaware's trout program is very limited, it does provide several weeks of early-spring angling opportunities until the streams get too warm to sustain the fishery.
Shirey said Delaware may once again be stocking Red Clay Creek, which was a designated trout stream several years ago until it became contaminated with various chemicals. The stream has been surveyed for contaminants continuously since it was closed, and during the past few years, biologists noted that resident fish seem to show lower levels of contaminants.
Consequently, the stream was stocked with a small number of brown trout last spring, and two weeks later, some of the trout were harvested by biologists to determine the level of contaminants. At press time, the trout were still being analyzed by an outside agency. Shirey said as soon as it can determine if the creek is safe, it will be restocked for recreational fishermen.
Approximately 39,000 rainbow trout will be stocked in Delaware's designated trout streams, which is about the same number as stocked each of the previous five years. Most of these trout will measure between 10 to 12 inches in length, but there will be a few exceptionally large brown trout added to the mix. Trophy browns and rainbows in excess of 2 pounds will also be included. Last season, there were a few trout up to 4 pounds caught in White Clay Creek, which is the primary area for the larger fish being stocked. However, each of Delaware's streams will receive a few outsized fish, something to heighten the interest of area anglers hoping to put a sharp bend in their fishing rods.
White Clay Creek
White Clay Creek is New Castle County's most popular trout stream. It originates in southeastern Pennsylvania and flows in a southerly direction through a relatively long stretch of state park, providing anglers with the opportunity to catch some chunky rainbows and browns through most of April and into May.
Approximately 19,000 rainbows will be stocked in the stream beginning the first week in April, of which approximately 350 will measure at least 14 inches or larger. The majority of these trout will be stocked a week before opening day, followed by eight subsequent stockings through the rest of the month. Approximately 4,000 trout will be distributed in an area just over a mile long during that first week, and subsequent stockings will range from 2,000 to 3,000 fish.
Christina Creek will receive approximately 4,500 trout during April. Because it is easily accessible from dozens of locations that are a stone's throw from state Route (SR) 896 and nearby roads a short distance upstream, it has become one of Newark's most popular trout streams. Although the waterway is quite small, it is heavily fished, particularly at the SR 896 bridge.
Wilson Run is a small tributary to Brandywine Creek located near the town of Rockland. The stream will be stocked with approximately 3,000 rainbow trout during April. The first stocking will contain some 500 fish; however, since the stream warms quickly, on the following day it will be stocked with another 1,500 to 2,000 trout. Subsequent stockings, of which there are four, will range from 200 to 700 fish, plus another four-dozen trophy trout measuring 14 inches or larger.
Two other streams, Mill and Pike creeks, will be stocked with 350 to 550 trout apiece during a three-day period. At best, the streams are marginal trout habitat and will only be stocked until the middle of April. Shirey said several ponds will also be stocked with trout as well, and those dates and locations will be announced before opening day.
Shirey said Delaware's trout stamp sales and matching federal funds are the only sources of revenue for the state's trout program. And as in most other states, the sales of trout stamps seem to be falling at an alarming rate, thus reducing the amount of available revenues for supporting the fisheries.
He was recently vacationing in Montana and read a newspaper article that stated though the number of trout stamps in that state remained stable, the average age of the angler in that state had increased nearly 10 years. Even in a state such as Montana, where trout fishing is beyond your wildest dreams, youngsters are not entering into the sport of recreational angling. The next decade should be interesting, particularly if this trend continues. Take a kid fishing whenever you can.