Things are looking good for Empire State trout anglers in 2006. Our expert explains what anglers can expect as they prepare to hit the water this season. (March 2006)
Many things are misunderstood about New York, but its trout fishing generally gets its due. New York has some of the finest and most storied trout fishing in the world. It has been this way since long before trout fishing became a sport for the common person and let us hope it will continue forever, available to anyone who possesses a fishing license.
Trout fishing in New York covers a broad spectrum. The roots of American trout fishing go back to the fabled streams of New York's Catskills, where some of the first brown trout brought to America were stocked. Also, some of the first rainbow trout brought from the American West were stocked.
Pristine streams teeming with wild brook trout dominate the Adirondack Mountains, where trout anglers still can escape the trappings of civilization. Lesser-known but equally superb are the blue-ribbon streams in the western counties where trout grow big and wild. And, of course, there are stocked streams and lakes all around the state that attract the majority of early-season anglers.
In some respects, trout fishing is getting better in New York, though some anglers still complain and long for some mythical "good old days" when fishing was supposedly much better.
In fact, there are some threats to our trout fishing that are being closely studied by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC).
Anglers frequently complain about real or perceived declines in trout fishing, usually on topics related to stocking. As you read the following information about the various trout management programs in New York, pay attention to the many ways anglers' money is being spent to protect and enhance the state's legendary trout-fishing opportunities.
New York streams are affected by acidic precipitation. This is particularly troublesome in the Adirondacks and Catskills, where thousands of miles of streams are affected. Thin soils with poor buffering capacity make these areas most susceptible to ill effects. The problem tends to be most acute during spring run-off. This affects wild brook trout spawning success and has made it necessary to stock many waters to sustain fisheries.
There is little that New York alone can do to remedy this situation. Most acid precipitation that falls in New York originates from the Midwest. Some of the "fallout" is from power plant and industrial emissions, some from motor vehicle emissions. The DEC began conducting studies during the 1980s to assess this problem, including surveys at almost 1,500 lakes in the Adirondacks.
Blaming the problem on someone else is easy but hardly correct. The Clean Air Act Amendments set standards in 1990 to help, but little has been accomplished. Sulfates from power plant-industrial emissions have been reduced, but nitrates from motor vehicle emissions have not -- motor vehicles including those anglers use to get to their favorite trout streams and lakes, and it is those nitrates that are the biggest problem during spring run-off.
These problems might become even more troublesome and complicated because of a real, or perceived, shortage of gasoline. Increased use of coal has been discussed. Higher gas prices might reduce nitrate emissions, but probably not. Increased coal use could increase sulfate emissions without adequate controls. Modern technology will be used to minimize emissions, and the public will be forced to tolerate the resulting increased costs.
Whirling disease is more often associated with the Western states, but it has been known to exist since 1994 in New York, probably originating at the DEC's Caledonia Hatchery. This disease, which affects trout and other salmonids, was unintentionally brought here from Europe. It tends to be the greatest problem when hatchery-reared trout are involved.
To minimize the effects of this disease, the DEC tests all lots of trout from state and private hatcheries, as well as sampling wild trout.
THE HATCHERY STORY
The DEC operates a dozen fish hatcheries, which stock nearly one million pounds of fish each year. Ten of these hatcheries are solely or partially devoted to trout or other salmonids. Each year, about 7.5 million salmonids are produced. This includes about two million brown trout, 575,000 brook trout and 675,000 rainbow trout not including steelhead.
Most stocking deals with adult trout. This includes yearling trout, which may be 8 to 9 inches in length, and 2-year-old trout, which may be 12 to 15 inches in length. The majority of these larger trout originate at the Caledonia Hatchery. This hatchery has the greatest production of salmonids, about 170,000 pounds annually.
There are also some much larger breeder trout that are no longer useful to the hatcheries that are stocked for anglers to enjoy.
The second-greatest production, 160,000 pounds annually, takes place at the Rome Hatchery. This facility includes the Rome Fish Disease Control Center where disease-resistant strains of trout are held and research is conducted.
The Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation is a not-for-profit corporation established in 1984 as a cooperative agreement between the Empire State Electric Energy Research Corporation and the DEC. Its mission is to determine the extent and magnitude of acidification of lakes and ponds in the Adirondacks region. Since a baseline survey was conducted from 1984 through 1987, indicating that nearly 25 percent of the waters had pH values of 5.0 or less and that 48 percent had little or no buffering capacity or were extremely sensitive to further acidification, acid rain monitoring surveys, fisheries and watershed projects have continued. Currently 52 ponds, lakes and reservoirs are monitored.
Anglers can view the study results at the Adirondack Lakes Survey Corporation's Internet Web site at www.adirondacklakessurvey.org.
While acidic precipitation affecting the trout fisheries of the Adirondacks, Region 5 and Region 6, has been well documented and highly publicized, another problem has been the introduction of exotic species.
New York has had a Non-Indigenous Aquatic Species Comprehensive Management Plan since 1993, but it deals with species such as zebra mussels or milfoil that are not native to the state. In several Adirondacks waters a more pressing problem has been the spread of yellow perch, a species that is native to the state but was absent from many of the finest trout lakes.
Perch have been shown to be detrimental to native trout populations. One of the most important ways anglers can cooperate with this issue is to pay strict attention to regulations prohibiting the use of live minnows at specified waters. The use or possession for use of alewives and blueback herring as baitfish is prohibited in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Warren and Washington counties. In addition, the use or possession of any baitfish is prohibited in many Adirondacks waters.
Native trout fisheries in the Adirondacks are aided by the Federal Sport Fish Restoration Funds, a federal program that collects taxes from fishing gear sales and then distributes funding to every state. Some of this money is used to survey and monitor biological and chemical aspects of Adirondack waters, and some to restore, enhance and manage Adirondack brook trout.
In Region 6, there has been a change in the trout fishing regulations. The one-fish daily limit for rainbow trout and steelhead in Jefferson County has been expanded to include all waters that are tributaries to Lake Ontario. In Region 5, catch-and-release regulations have been established on sections of the Saranac River, West Branch Ausable River, West Branch Saint Regis River and the Batten Kill.
Trout waters in these northern regions will be cold early in the season, so fishing will be difficult. One nice place to start is the upper reaches of the Black River in the Black River Wild Forest. Access to the river is reasonably convenient. There are campsites along and near the river that are marked by round discs.
This area is toward the southern end of the Adirondacks. Exit from Interstate Route 90 at Exit 31 in Utica, go north on state Route 12, fork right onto state Route 28 and then turn right at Forestport.
Several pleasant campsites are situated along North Lake. Maps are available at local businesses. If you cannot find what you need, continue north along Route 12 toward Old Forge.
The Beaver Kill Willowemoc Creek Project was started in 2000 and is now awaiting a final report. All 165 tributaries have been studied. Water temperatures and chemistries throughout the system have been monitored, plus there was a three-year creel census and radio tags were implanted to stocked trout.
"A few of the tags ended up in the stomachs of mergansers," said fisheries biologist Dan Zielinski. "So we know mergansers are taking a fair number of trout. And I think mergansers are probably more abundant on the stocked streams because the stocked fish are easier pickings."
The Beaver Kill and Willowemoc are a couple of the more fabled streams in the lore of trout fishing. They flow eastward out of the Catskills into the East Branch Delaware River at East Branch through Sullivan County and Delaware County. State Route 17 follows these two creeks from Livingston Manor west to East Branch. There are fishing easements along most of this section.
Some of the finest trout fishing in the state, including some of the best trophy trout fishing, is at waters controlled by the New York City Water Supply.
Anglers need a permit to fish New York City water supply reservoirs. Permits are available online at www.nyc.gov/html/dep/watershed/, or call the DEP's Land Management-Access Permit office at (800) 575-LAND (5263).
Applications for use of city water supply lands are also available at watershed town halls, watershed tackle-sports shops, DEP Land Management offices in the watershed, and DEP offices in Queens and Manhattan. Completed permit applications should be mailed to NYC DEP Land Management-Access Permits office, 71 Smith Avenue, Kingston, NY 12401. Once a completed application is received and accepted by the DEP, an access permit will be issued and mailed to the permit holder. This typically takes from one to four weeks, so do not wait too long if you want to fish any of these fine trout waters.
Boating for the purposes of fishing is allowed on New York City reservoirs to anglers holding the appropriate DEP permits. Anglers must store their fishing boats at designated storage areas. All boats must be approved and registered with the DEP.
Applications are available through the Web site noted above.
One notable regulations change in Region 4 provides that all fishing is prohibited from July 1 to Aug. 31 on the Beaver Kill in Delaware County from the iron bridge at Horton downstream to the first Route 17 overpass.
There is some surprisingly good trout fishing on New York's Long Island. Four ponds in Nassau County, a reservoir and a creek, are stocked. In Suffolk County, six ponds, nine lakes, six rivers and a creek are stocked with more than 20,000 trout each year. Stocking is spread out from spring through fall.
Some of the heaviest stocking is at Upper Lake west of Yaphank along Middle Island Road, and at Lower Lake near Yaphank along Yaphank Avenue and Long Island Avenue.
For a more unusual setting and some quality fishing, check out the Connetquot or Caleb Smith State Park preserves. Both are managed by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation as fly-fishing parks. In addition to stocked trout, there are also sea-run brook, brown, rainbow and tiger trout. Trout weighing more than 8 pounds are sometimes caught here. Fishing is by reservation only. For details, contact park offices in Connetquot at (631) 581-1005 or Caleb Smith at (631) 265-1054.
A color brochure showing the locations of the various fresh waters of Long Island and New York City along with information on the type of access available and fish species present is available from the DEC's Region 1 Freshwater Fisheries Unit at (631) 444-0280.
"We opened up several of our streams to fishing through winter to provide more fishing opportunities when we found that natural reproduction is sufficient," said Region 9 fisheries biologist Paul McKeown. "These are waters where natural production is high and the fishing is very productive."
A catch-and-release artificials-only regulation has been established for the period from Oct. 16 through March 31 on Clear Creek in Cattaraugus County, Lime Lake Outlet, McKinstry Creek, Hosmer (Sardinia) Brook, and Clear Creek and Wiscoy Creek in Wyoming County in DEC Region 9.
A year-round catch-and-release artificial lures-only regulation has been instituted on Ischua Creek in the area of Franklinville in Cattaraugus County.
"We don't expect that the new regulation is going to have any negative effect on our fisheries at all," McKeown said.
During the new period, McKeown does not anticipate much fishing pressure. Most sportsmen will be hunting or fishing for steelhead during fall and early winter. Even so, the trout population will be closely monit
"We conduct electro-shocking studies on our waters periodically," McKeown said. "We also conduct angler surveys to determine the number of trout that are being removed, so we have a pretty good feel of what is going on in our streams."
Also, the daily limit for trout has been changed to five fish per day with no more than two trout over 12 inches for all waters not covered under special regulations in Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie and Wyoming counties in Region 9.
McKeown advised anglers to watch for new year-round fishing regulations at Wiscoy Creek, Easy Coy Creek, Cattaraugus Creek, Elton Creek, Elm Creek and Mansfield Creek.
"The new regulations will allow fishing on streams that were traditionally closed," he said. "Anglers are reminded that the law allows catch- and-release artificial lures-only fishing on these streams."
Goose Creek may differ from the others in that harvesting of trout may be allowed.
McKeown cautions anglers to avoid disturbing trout spawning beds while fishing during spawning season.
Wiscoy Creek and its tributary, East Coy Creek, provide an outstanding wild trout fishery in Wyoming County. Parking and public access have improved over the past few years.
"That's our top region stream," McKeown stated. "You're talking about 1,500 wild browns per mile of stream."
In addition to the regular statewide regulations, New York has numerous special regulations that apply to specific bodies of water. Anglers are advised to check the regulations booklet issued with each fishing license.
For more information about trout fishing and management in New York, contact the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-4753; call (518) 402-8920, or check the agency's Web site at www.dec.state.ny.us.
For travel information, contact the New York State Division of Tourism (North America Group Travel), Empire State Development, Empire State Plaza, Concourse Level, Room 110, Albany, NY 12223; or call 800-CAL-LNYS, Ext. 47624.