Here's a look at what New England's trout anglers can expect as they gear up for the coming open-water season. (March 2007)
Photo By Ronald L. Sinfelt III
We can depend on New England's weather to be fickle. We can also depend on our state fisheries biologists to be passionate, dedicated professionals. Last year, those two dependables complemented each other to create an almost perfect season for trout anglers in 2006. Will it be another near-perfect season in 2007?
Early last year, the cold spring and cool rains kept waters temperatures low, creating an ideal environment for each state's stocked fish and wild fish to spread out, survive and thrive.
While anglers keep their fingers crossed that the weather cooperates, they may want to add a few new terms to their salmonid lexicon, including splake, tiger trout and triploids.
While discussing fly patterns, lure selections or types of bait with angling partners, consider a debate on the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. The EBTJV involves 17 eastern states from Maine to Georgia, designed to leverage the information gleaned by state agencies with the long-term goal of developing a comprehensive restoration and education strategy to improve habitat for brook trout.
So what does the 2007 trout season looks like? If the weather holds true, anglers can look for a good year. A "good" year, however, has a different meaning, depending on whether you're a fisheries biologist or a trout fisherman.
New England's anglers may rest assured that their state's fisheries personnel are working hard to provide quality fish and improved angling opportunities.
Here's a look at what trout anglers in your state can expect in 2007:
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department's Division of Fisheries manages a combination of programs for stocked and wild trout populations as well as lake trout. About 45 percent of stocked fish are part of the state's restoration efforts, which focuses on re-establishing wild trout populations in certain waters such as Lake Champlain and the Connecticut River. Put-and-take stocking is always part of the stocking program, but biologists are now targeting prime habitat for fish survival, even in waters with limited natural reproduction.
Expect hatchery-reared fish to be yearlings, according to Rich Kirn, a Vermont fisheries biologist. Also, expect larger 2-year-old fish that typically run about 2 pounds.
Kirn explained that streams provide a harsh environment for put-and-take trout. Fish stocked in ponds and larger bodies of water that are colder can survive and thrive for multiple years, growing to 5 pounds or more.
The difference between a wild trout and a stocked trout cannot be determined merely by the naked eye. Under magnification, however, a stocked trout's scales will show more consistent growth rings, similar to that of a tree. The wild trout will have inconsistent growth, due to changing environmental conditions and forage availability throughout the year.
Even discerning anglers will have trouble determining a "triploid" from a rainbow. A triploid looks, swims, and feeds like a rainbow, but it cannot reproduce. Triploids, Kirn noted, are part of an experiment over the last few years to stock sterilized fish, with the goal to reduce genetic interaction between wild and stocked fish.
"Triploids develop faster than non-sterile fish because they do not have to deal with the stress reproductive systems have on growth," he said.
A triploid also offers anglers a larger, more aggressive fish. The triploid project has come out of successful studies in the West, in rich trout states like Idaho and Utah.
The procedure used to create triploids is low-tech, according to Kirn. At a certain stage in the hatchery fish's growth, the water they're swimming in is heated for a period of time. This renders the young fish sterile. For a small investment, the state is developing a program that will greatly increase the quality of Vermont's fish. Brook trout are next on the triploid program list.
Wild trout programs routinely target upland streams, medium valley streams, larger rivers and consistently cool bodies of water such as lakes and ponds. The program has been so successful (between creel limits and hatchery supplements) that in some lakes, stocked trout are no longer needed to sustain fish populations.
Another program in the Green Mountain State is a habitat-enhancement project on the Batten Kill to help restore wild brown trout populations.
After a six-year study, the state drafted a plan that emphasizes wild trout and habitat restoration including the placement of logs, boulders and bank vegetation and creating deep pools for brown trout cover.
The proposed plan also includes stocking a limited number of sterile rainbows to improve angling quality during the habitat-rebuilding stage.
Restoration work should begin this summer, but the proposal to stock the Batten Kill in the interim has become an issue. The state will gather more angler and public input before making a final decision.
To learn more, you can contact the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department at (802) 241-3700, or visit www.Anr.State.VT.US.VT/Fw/FwHome.
New Hampshire's six hatcheries will release up to 400,000 pounds of fish next year, according to Dianne Emerson, the state's Coldwater Fisheries Project leader. That's about one million trout!
Vermont's trout waters vary, so expect brookies and rainbows in the colder waters, and browns in the warmer sections. Northern-region hatchery fish are often smaller due to the colder climate, while fish reared in southern hatcheries are typically larger. Trout from 6 to 8 inches range from 1/2 to 3/4 of a pound in the younger (two- to three-year-old) fish.
Older brood fish, released in smaller numbers, average 2 to 5 pounds. Stocking occurs multiple times per year, but the most fish are released in spring.
Fishing last year was great, Emerson said. Conditions were ideal, including a cold spring and plenty of rain. Trout waters stayed cool, enabling fish to disperse from the immediate stocking areas.
tions for the fish made things slightly more difficult for anglers because most waters were better able to support fish. The opportunities were still there, but the fish were spread out.
Anglers can expect more great fishing in 2007, Emerson said, noting that if the weather is again ideal for fish, catching them may take more effort.
Emerson explained that the state's hatcheries have come a long way. While the number of fish produced each year is lower, their quality is very high. The food used to sustain the fish while they are in the tanks helps keep them healthy and produces beautiful, colorful specimens.
Water quality and habitat are important to sustain wild trout populations and to keep stocked trout programs successful. These programs' failure or success can hinge on a few degrees of temperature. Trout are stressed at 71 degrees, explains Emerson, and at 72 degrees, juvenile fish succumb to the heat.
Fisheries managers continue to monitor the temperature of stocked waters by deploying electronic devices that record the temperature and provide a thermal profile of the body of water.
State biologists also conduct in-stream habitat surveys on smaller streams and the larger rivers. Surveys of the northern and southern parts of the state have been completed, while the central area is still being studied.
The Granite State's wild trout program has identified three trout ponds in the northeastern part of the state that no longer need stocking -- a feather in the cap of the state's fisheries managers. These wild trout ponds are managed via special creel regulations. There are also 13 streams and brooks where wild trout are self-sustaining.
The state's typical wild trout is 9 inches in length. Trout populations in most lakes are self-sustaining. Special regulations, such as an 18-inch minimum-length limit and a three-month closed season, allow the slower-growing lake fish to survive and thrive.
A program partnering Maine and New Hampshire involved an estuary-release project to see if the habitat was inviting and if the fish would return to spawn. The water temperature of the Dead Diamond River was perfect at 65 degrees and, as Emerson explained, that encourages the released fish to spread out. One radio- tagged trout traveled 23 miles from the stocking areas up through the tributaries.
The data collected from this program will be used to determine stocking frequencies and locations.
The state is also part of the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture. Though New Hampshire has not been chosen for one of the EBTJV's initial projects, Emerson said that the program is a huge push in understanding the impacts of agriculture, acid rain, habitat encroachment, non-native species and more.
New Hampshire fisheries experts are assessing problems with a move to restoration and sustainability.
"By compiling data, we can understand what we can and what we can't do," Emerson said. "We also know what has historically worked."
For more information, contact the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department at (603) 271-3361, or log onto www.Wildlife.State.NH.us.
A $7 million bond offering was the push behind the Pine Tree State renovating its hatcheries, said Peter Bourque, Maine's director of fisheries development. The Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife used the funds to increase the production area and convert from a raceway system to a round tank system. The refurbished hatcheries should produce more fish for anglers.
The funds will also bankroll a 30-year plan for improving and sustaining Maine's many trout programs.
Next year, Bourque said, anglers should expect a combination of 1.25 million stocked fish composed of salmon, lake trout, splake, browns, brookies and rainbows. The largest number of stocked fish will be brookies, followed by browns.
Large spring and fall stockings with fingerlings, 75 percent of which are brookies, occur in remote areas. Maine's landmass, large in comparison to the other New England states, means that fish in back country areas are best stocked from the air. On larger lakes, pontoon planes land and release fish from special holding tanks.
On smaller lakes where airplanes cannot land or take off safely, the fish are dropped from 100 to 200 feet above the water's surface. Slow air speed and the height ensure that the trout fall into the water unharmed.
Brown trout stocking targets marginal waters because browns are hardier. They are also stocked in fall with ice-fishing in mind. Larger brood-stock trout are also stocked intermittently, offering anglers more opportunities for bigger fish.
Splake are hybrid trout, bred from male brook trout and female lake trout. These non-reproducing fish, which look like brook trout, are stocked in 50 waters across the state and provide more quality angling in more places than any other stocked trout. Not only do splake grow faster than do typical trout, but they also survive at a higher rate than stocked fish. Splake in lake environments also help control perch populations and offer additional ice-fishing opportunities.
Bourque noted that Maine is the last stronghold for wild brook trout in the East. The EBTJV has documented large native brook trout populations in 305 waters statewide. Some of these are lakes and ponds that have never been stocked. Most of these wild trout areas lie in the northern part of the state.
For more information, contact the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife at (207) 287-8000, or you can visit the agency's Web site at www.MeFishWildLife.com.
Up to 450,000 pounds of trout, or about 600,000 fish will be distributed in Massachusetts' five wildlife management areas, according to Ken Simmons, MassWildlife's chief fish culturist. The breakdown is about 60 percent rainbows, 18 percent brook trout and 20 percent browns.
The remainder consists of tiger trout -- a sterile cross between a brookie and a brown. You'll know a tiger by the wavy stripes that cover most of its entire body. Tigers don't have red or orange spots like brookies and browns. Typically, they measure 14 to 15 inches. Tigers are part of the Bay State's put-and-take program, impacting some 500 bodies of water across state, Simmons noted.
Like his New England colleagues, Simmons said that last year's fairly wet, cold spring helped the trout population over the season, although a few warmwater issues arose when a heat wave hit the state. Simmons strongly anticipates a great trout season for 2007.
Each district manager decides which water body to stock and when to
release fish. On a weekly basis, the state's Web site lists stocking areas and days in March, October, and late December. Anglers can also expect about 2,000 Atlantic salmon in select waters.
As for wild fish, Simmons said that Massachusetts has many wild brook and wild brown waters that stretch from Worcester County west to the New York State border. Wild fish range in length from 6 to 9 inches.
Todd Richards, a MassWildlife fisheries biologist, participates in the EBTJV, working to establish goals and assess threats. Richards said the EBTJV has a good grasp on the data for all the participating states and is one of largest such efforts ever attempted in the East.
For more information, call MassWildlife at (508) 792-7270, or visit them at www.Mass.gov/dfwele/dfw.
Trout anglers in Rhode Island can expect some 80,000 to 100,000 stocked fish of the same high quality and size that Ocean State anglers have come to expect, said Christine Dudley, supervising freshwater fisheries biologist.
Stocked varieties include rainbows, brookies and browns in nearly 100 waters around the state. Last year, the Department of Environmental Management boosted its sea-run brown trout program with some 20,000 fish released in the Pawtucket River. These fish spend time in the river's estuary and spawn inland. The browns turn silvery in the brackish, salty water, Dudley said, and provide great sport for anglers.
Brook trout are the gems of the state's wild trout fishery, he noted.
"They have a wide distribution in the state and are an indicator species -- like a canary in a coal mine -- indicating the water in the Ocean State is high quality," Dudley said. "These brightly colored fish typically run up to 10 inches."
For more information, contact the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management at (401) 789-0821, or visit the agency's Web site at Dem.Ri.Gov.
Bill Hyatt, director of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection's Inland Fisheries Division, said the state hatchery system has become more efficient and has made some changes, enabling it to produce larger fish.
This year, anglers can expect over 700,000 trout averaging 11 to 12 inches, with some 12- to 15-inch fish in the mix for spring. A slight cutback in production, Hyatt said, allows the state to produce better-quality fish. Browns make up 50 percent of the mix, while 40 percent are rainbows and 10 percent are brookies.
The DEP is pleased with its Trout Management Area (TMA) program. Hyatt said that a large number of catch-and-release TMAs are open prior to opening day in April, but few anglers take advantage of the opportunity prior to opening day.
He noted that improvement and momentum are expected in the next five to six years as the EBTJV defines the future of trout fishing in Connecticut and New England.
Fishermen are important to the future of any trout-management programs, which can succeed only through education and establishing the next generation of fishermen. Hyatt said that getting children involved in fishing is part of securing the future of the sport.
"Connecticut's fishing future is dependent upon continued good habitat," he said. "Today's anglers need to be environmental stewards and pay attention to construction projects in their towns so we can protect our trout-fishing heritage."
For more information, contact the Connecticut DEP at (860) 424-3474, or visit the agency's Web site at Dep.State.CT.US.
Find more about New England fishing and hunting at: NewEnglandGameandFish.com.