By Mike Lynch
Anglers may want to do a little homework before hitting trout waterways this season, as the stream regulations received a major overhaul.
The new regulations go into effect today, the open day of trout fishing season. They include a new classification system and harvest limits for streams, in addition to a winter catch-and-release season.
“I know it’s going to be confusing this year,” said Steve Hurst, chief of the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s bureau of fisheries in a zoom conference call Monday. “We’ve had the same trout stream regulations for 30 years.”
He did say in the long run the regulations should be simpler to understand than the previous system, which he said was too complex.
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Years in the making
The new rules were part of the state’s new trout stream management plan, which was developed over the last several years. That process to create that plan included 16 public meetings with anglers in 2017.
“We found out from folks that it’s not all about catch rate,” Hurst said. “In fact, it’s not about harvest. Most people are throwing their catch back.”
One of the big changes in these regulations is that trout streams are broken down into two categories that include three types of wild trout streams and two types of stocked ones.
The wild trout steams will not be stocked with DEC hatchery trout. These types of streams will be managed to protect wild trout, including native brook trout populations, and to meet the goals of anglers seeking a wild trout experience.
The wild trout stream category has three designations: wild, which allows for anglers to harvest five trout per day with no more than two over 12 inches long; wild-quality, which has a catch limit of three per day with no more than one over 12 inches long; and wild-premier, which limits harvest to one trout of any size.
Rivers in the stocked category are now either stocked or stock-extended. Stocked streams are those waterways that are considered to have significant habitant problems that don’t allow them to sustain wild trout populations. They are stocked once per year and have limits of five fish per day, with no more than two over 12 inches in length.
Stock-extended streams support some wild trout but not an abundant trout population. These streams have a catch limit of three trout and no more than one over 12 inches. The West Branch of the Ausable is an example of this type of waterway
Uncategorized streams have the default state regulations of five trout, with no more than two over 12 inches.
Anglers looking for information about specific streams can now do so using the state’s new interactive stream map developed for anglers.
These regulations are in effect from April 1 to October 15.
Another big change this year is that anglers can continue fishing through the winter on streams, a no-no on most streams in the past. The new catch-and-release trout season on streams will run from October 16 to March 31. Anglers fishing during these dates must used artificial lures and release all fish immediately.
The winter stream fishing season will likely wind up drawing more anglers in warmer parts of the state than the Adirondacks. Winters in the Adirondack interior often lasts into late March or April, making stream fishing extremely difficult. Fall anglers may find some opportunities.
Rich Kovaks, a fishing guide from Wanakena, said the winter stream fishing season could attract some die-hard anglers, noting that winters are not nearly as cold or snowy as they were 40 years ago.
“The real fishing enthusiast is going to take advantage of staying out on the water a little earlier or getting out a little later,” he said.
Wilmington fishing guide Rachel Finn said she was glad to see the state was revising the plan and doing more to protect wild trout from stocked population, but she had concerns about the winter fishing season on streams.
“I’m a little on the fence about that,” Finn said. “It could possibly hurt wild trout populations. That’s when they spawn.”
Native brook trout spawn in October.
While the new regulations go into effect today to coincide the start of the trout-fishing season, in many parts of the Adirondacks, trout season doesn’t really start for a few weeks. A snowstorm was forecasted for today in the northern Adirondacks, and ice is still present on many pond and lakes. In streams, water temperatures are still too cold for fish to be active.
The pond fishing season generally starts after ice out and stream fishing heats up around then. Prime spring fishing conditions generally take place between Mother’s Day and Father’s Day in many parts of the Adirondacks for streams and rivers.