Here's what you can expect to find this spring season for rainbows, brookies and browns in Maryland and Delaware. (March 2007)
Photo By Ron Sinfelt
For many anglers, spring fishing means trout fishing. Each season is ushered in with a trip to flowing waters teeming with trout, or perhaps a newly stocked lake. Trout management is an important component is the overall scheme of things, as fish managers struggle to provide a variety of choices to satisfy the differing appetites of trout anglers.
What follows is a look at the present trout-management picture in Maryland and Delaware. From it, you will get an appreciation of all that goes into the many elements of trout management, as well as a good idea of what to expect during the coming seasons for each state.
Charlie Gougeon is a regional fisheries biologist with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR). Gougeon is responsible for managing the waters of central Maryland, which include several outstanding trout streams. He has the added challenge of providing trout-fishing opportunities in a highly populated, ever-expanding portion of the state.
While hatchery-reared trout are a big part of the picture, stream-bred wild trout are also available to central Maryland anglers.
"Our real objective is to provide wild-trout fisheries where we can regulate them against over-harvesting, through creel limits and special regulations and seasons if necessary," he said. "We also provide a put-and-take opportunity in areas where only seasonally do we have the conditions for trout fishing. In this instance, we have the water, and it is cold enough at certain times of the year. These waters have to be accessible to the public. The only missing piece of the puzzle is the trout. So we grow them to adult size and stock them in the spring, and in some cases, both the spring and the fall."
Wild trout require a year-round supply of clean, cold water, as well as habitat conducive to successful spawning. Those requirements are rather exacting, and not common in highly developed places. In general, stream-bred trout are protected from the masses, who are interested in targeting hatchery trout.
"We have a policy that we roughly follow. The policy is that if a stream supports wild trout, we do our best — especially with any new ones that we become aware of — to avoid any stocking in that stream," he said.
"Additional crowds of people focused on a stream, as a result of stocking, place undue pressure on the wild fish. We know that however robust a wild trout population may be, when you subject it to the added fishing pressure with the presence of stocked fish, it reduces the number of wild trout.
"The hatchery program and the existing trout fishery are managed in two different ways. With the hatchery program, we grow catchable-sized fish for areas that don't have the ability to sustain a wild trout population of any significance, providing a trout-fishing opportunity where there otherwise would be none.
"In particular, here in the central part of the state, we have a lot of large waters close to metropolitan areas. We have to provide hatchery fish if we want to provide trout-fishing opportunities in many of these waters. Some of these waters include the many branches of the Patapsco and the Patuxent rivers, as well as large streams like Little Gunpowder, Big Gunpowder and Deer Creek. All of those are targets for our hatchery program."
While hatchery fish and wild trout provide different opportunities and are managed separately, in some instances a unique blend of quality habitat coupled with the desire to provide various kinds of opportunity has created a situation where both kinds can be pursued in the same area.
"Some of those streams contain wild trout opportunities as well. The biggest and most well-known is Big Gunpowder Falls. We have over 17 miles of tailwater that supports wild trout fishing opportunities. But along that length — particularly in the lower length — there's approximately five miles that still contain ample numbers of wild trout, but is managed as a put-and-take fishery.
"We grow fish to adult size in the hatchery and stock them out in the spring and fall to provide additional trout-fishing opportunities."
In the 17 miles of the Big Gunpowder that Gougeon spoke of, you will find various stretches of water managed with different objectives in mind. It's a rare case where one will find one stream to suit the needs of a variety of trout-fishing interests.
Within the many state streams stocked with trout, there are various regulations aimed at providing a wide variety of opportunities. On many waters, anglers can creel trout during the mid-April opener. Such waters usually see heavy fishing pressure, particularly early on. During this time fish numbers may quickly be reduced. On other waters, special regulations delay the creeling of trout until later in the season, when warming temperatures limit the stream's ability to support trout.
"We have different gradations of management, tailored to the individual capability of each stream," explained Gougeon. "Delayed-harvest streams, for instance — such as the one near me here in the Columbia area, which is very close to a high density of people — don't support any wild trout. A strong support group, Trout Unlimited people and others, wanted to see something in a metropolitan area that would hold trout for longer than a couple of weeks. They wanted a way to extend the season and recycle the fish. The answer is delayed harvest."
Maryland streams managed by way of the delayed-harvest program have catch-and-release regulations from Oct. 1 through June 15, which time overlaps two stocking periods, the one in the fall and the one in the spring. This period also overlaps two fishing seasons.
"The streams are stocked during the fall, when the water temperatures are cold enough to support the fish, and people are allowed to go in and catch-and-release these fish," said Gougeon. "Then they are stocked again in the spring season when the fish should last until mid-June, when temperatures warm up. So from June 16 through the end of September we encourage folks to harvest those fish, which have probably been caught and released several times. We know that with the coming of summer, these streams are not going to be a good place for them. They are going to experience warm temperatures, and we will likely lose them."
In regard to underutilized trout opportunities in his district, Klotz mentioned the delayed-harvest area on the North Branch, which is found above Jenn
ings Randolph Lake.
The stockings of adult trout, as well as the presence of stream-bred trout, form the foundation of the state's trout program, but it isn't limited to that. Fingerling trout, too, can develop into the fish that someday wind up on the end of your line.
According to Gougeon, during each year's hatchery production, trout are graded as they grow. As the process unfolds, typically some trout fingerlings are left over — fish that are released at that life stage into certain waters. Some excellent trout fisheries have developed, fueled wholly or partly by the fingerling trout program.
"Every year, each of the regional fisheries managers are called by the hatchery people and asked if we want any of the excess fingerlings," said Gougeon. "We have a number of places here in the central part of the state where we stock them. A couple of them are tailwaters, like Gunpowder Falls. Since 1992, we have been working on a put-and-grow kind of fishery above Falls Road. That's the first 1 1/2 miles of tailwaters below Prettyboy Dam."
He said the trout waters in his regional fishery all tend to receive strong angler attention. Even as "new" waters are added to the state's stocking list, anglers quickly become aware of them, in part thanks to the regular fishing report posted on the agency's Web site. Lots of people and a finite number of trout waters equal heavy usage.
"The thing that makes it workable here is that we have a big choice for anglers. They can go to the catch-and-release areas, which are open 24/7. They can go there anytime they want. We have enough choices that the pressure can be spread out."
Western Maryland plays host to numerous quality trout-fishing venues. From large tailwaters fisheries to tiny streams that support native brook trout populations, you can find various trout-fishing scenarios.
"In the two most extreme western counties of Maryland in my district, we have a total of 20 streams that total 113 miles that are managed as put-and-take," said Alan Klotz, western region fisheries manager. "We also have 17 impoundments in the district that are managed as put-and- take trout waters, totaling 5,890 acres. Within these waters, we stock about 111,000 trout annually."
Klotz reports that the average adult trout stocked in Maryland waters typically runs 10 to 12 inches.
"We also stock a fair number of 2- to 3-year-old fish," he said. "Last year, we stocked some fish that weighted over 5 pounds. These are fish that we mix in with the smaller ones. Those are mostly rainbows and some browns. We also stock golden (rainbow) trout."
Highlighting western Maryland's many trout-fishing options are several special regulations waters that furnish outstanding sport. This includes the North Branch of the Potomac, which features two catch-and-release areas. There is the catch-and-release area of Youghiogheny River, which has four miles of water located below the Deep Creek powerhouse. This adds up to over eight miles of catch-and- release water. Fingerling stockings — both brown and rainbows — are the primary source of stocked fish in these sections.
Klotz recently surveyed some of the region's better trout waters. In the Youghiogheny section, he reports excellent findings.
"We have three stations within the four miles," noted Klotz. "In each of the stations, we were getting brown trout over 20 inches, some as long as 22 or 23 inches. The rainbows were as big as 18 1/2 inches. The area puts out real big trout."
Klotz hadn't yet checked out the North Branch when we spoke, but he said the findings there the prior year were excellent.
"We had about 950 adult trout per mile within the catch-and-release areas," he noted. "That consisted of four species of trout, including brown, rainbow, brook and a few cutthroat. Of course, the surroundings of these areas are part of the package, too. It's gorgeous down there!"
Last year's survey of the Savage River tailwaters, which is managed as a trophy trout area for brook and brown trout, also looked extremely good.
"There were well over 1,000 trout per mile," he said. "Actually, it was probably closer to 1,200 trout per mile. The majority are brown trout. About 30 percent are brook. Just a lot of good quality-sized trout, ones we consider 12 inches or better. There is one of that size or bigger every 16 feet of the river."
According to Shirey, about 30,000 trout are stocked in Delaware streams each year. Lacking any state or
private hatcheries, the DFW purchases these trout from sources outside Delaware.
Klotz made mention of the new special regulations on the North Branch of the Potomac. This area is located downstream of the catch-and- release section, and runs for about 20 miles from Westernport down. It is managed as a zero-creel-limit stretch of river for trout. The difference between a zero-creel-limit and a catch- and-release area is that bait is permitted in zero-creel-limit areas.
"There are other species to fish for, such as bass," said Klotz. "We stock fingerlings trout in there, as does West Virginia. It's big water; you really need to float it to fish it effectively. There are some really big trout in there."
Klotz notes that in Garrett and Allegany counties, there are 54 wild trout streams, which add up to about 300 miles of fine salmonid fishing. Brook trout are the primary species, though a few wild browns are found there, too.
In regard to underutilized trout opportunities in his district, Klotz mentioned the delayed-harvest area on the North Branch, which is found above Jennings Randolph Lake.
"It's a portion of the river that borders the Potomac-Garrett State Forest," he said. "The access there is so limited. There is an access point near the top and one near the bottom. Otherwise, there are no roads.
"But the entire section is stocked by way of the railroad, which runs right along the stream. The CXX railroad provides us with a truck with a tank. A person willing to walk a couple of miles will get into some really remote fishing."
The geographic nature of Delaware limits the available amount of trout fishing. There's simple isn't a lot of trout habitat. The state makes good use of what's provided, though, furnishing trout opportunities on both flowing and lake environments. Some opportunities exist in each of the state's three counties.
"We have a very small number of trout-fishing waters," agreed Craig Shirey, a program manager in the fisheries section for the Delaware Division of Fish and Wildlife (DFW).
"We have six or seven designated trout streams that are completely put-and-take. A few years ago, there was
some thought that maybe we do have some natural reproduction in the While Clay, but it's never been documented. It's likely that everything caught from these streams is a result of our stocking efforts. We assume that most of the trout that are stocked are either caught or leave the system. We have very limited numbers of fish that hold over."
Stocked trout streams in Delaware include White Clay Creek, Mill Creek, Pike Creek, Christina Creek, Beaver Run and Wilson Creek. All of these streams are located in northern New Castle County. White Clay represents the most significant of the state's trout streams, and as such receives the highest number of trout.
According to Shirey, about 30,000 trout are stocked in Delaware streams each year. Lacking any state or private hatcheries, the DFW purchases these trout from sources outside Delaware. Shirey said that the fish often come from Pennsylvania, but can come from as far away as Virginia or North Carolina.
Last season, White Clay was stocked with approximately 21,240 of the 30,900 trout slated to be stocked. Cristina Creek was the second most heavily stocked.
In addition to the six streams stocked by the DFW, two ponds are also stocked with trout each spring. These are Tidbury Pond in Kent County and Blockhouse Pond in Sussex County. Both ponds were stocked twice last season, during March.
"Most of the fish in the ponds are either quickly caught or die fairly soon as water temperatures quickly get pretty high," noted Shirey.
In regard to any changes in the state's trout program, Shirey reports that regarding one of the stocked ponds, a possible change might be on the horizon.
"We are trying to get away from using the Blockhouse Pond," he said. "We have a 10-acre pond outside of Greenwood that's currently undergoing some bank stabilization. We are not sure if it will be ready for this spring's season. We would like to move our Sussex County freshwater trout fishing into that pond."
That's one of many good reasons to be sure and check your state's 2007 fishing regulations before hitting your favorite trout water this spring.