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Spring Trout Fishing Outlook '99
By Patricia L. Hamilton
Principal Fisheries Biologist

It's March 22nd and the hatchery trucks have started to roll, signaling the approach of yet another trout season opener. Just another ordinary start to more than two months of trout stocking, I thought, as I drove into work that Monday morning . until I crossed the North Branch of the Raritan River. Oh my! Heavy rains the day before had caused the river to swell over its banks, and reddish-brown water was flowing across the adjacent ball fields. Thankfully the river was not slated for stocking that day. But the Musconetcong River was and I had volunteers assembling near Penwell to bucket trout up and down a one-mile stretch of river. In a panic, I detoured over Schooley's Mountain fearing the "Musky" suffered a similar fate. But snow, not rain, had blanketed the region, slowing the rate of runoff. The river was in good shape and I breathed a sigh of relief as I headed into the office.

Opening day is eagerly anticipated by anglers, and many Division staff and volunteers work hard to make it a success. Stocking troutWeekly trout allocations for each water are calculated in advance using a computerized database. A public meeting, held by the Fish and Game Council every February, provides a forum for public input to the trout program. The spring stocking schedule, which spans a 10-week period, is prepared. Hatchery trucks are readied and driver and helper assignments are doled out. Appropriate signs are posted on all our trout-stocked and special regulation trout waters. Traditional stocking locations on private land are checked to ensure that public access is still permitted. There are a seemingly endless number of tasks, requiring an enormous amount of teamwork, yet we are well prepared and everything is falling into place.

Of course the Pequest Trout Hatchery continues to faithfully produce the required number of trout - 575,000 - for our spring program. By the time April 10th arrives the Division will have stocked more than 170,000 trout statewide in nearly 200 ponds, lakes and stream segments. Early on, the majority of trout stocked are brookies since they tend to be more easily tempted to bite than browns or rainbows. But as the spring season progresses we'll begin stocking the latter two species more frequently. You can expect most of our stocked trout to average 10 -11 inches. But early in the season some real dandies will be mixed in - leftover broodstock trout averaging 15 - 19 inches.

What does opening day have in store for New Jersey trout anglers this year? We've added a new water, Silver Lake, to our pre-season stocking program. Fishing for troutThis 21-acre lake is tucked away in our Hamburg Mtn. Wildlife Management Area (Sussex Co.) and features a car top boat launch. Improvements in water quality and public access on the Whippany River (near Morristown) have allowed us to expand our stocking to include a stretch below Speedwell Lake. Alms House Pond (Sussex Co.), rather than the similarly named brook which flows through it, will be stocked with trout. Otherwise, all the waters stocked with trout last year are back again this year as none were permanently removed from the stocking program. However, a few restoration projects underway on several lakes may temporarily interfere with our stocking plans. We will announce any stocking cancellations promptly by way of a news release.

This year two of our Year Round Trout Conservation Areas (Tom's River and East Branch of the Paulinskill) and the "No Kill" stretch of the Musconetcong River are being stocked early on during the pre-season stocking period. This is to provide anglers with some added opportunity during this three-week period; these waters are among the few trout-stocked waters that may be fished at this time (though no trout may be kept). Successful anglerAlso, we will be evaluating the trout fisheries at our two largest lakes this year. An angler creel survey at Round Valley Reservoir and a trout tagging study at Lake Hopatcong will aid us in effectively managing these two very different lakes.

With so much effort expended and media attention on our highly visible stocking program, the opportunities afforded by our wild trout streams are easily overlooked. These streams are relatively small, and as a consequence the wild trout are generally a downsized, though more vividly colored, version of our hatchery trout. Special regulations apply, but they remain open during the pre-season and afford a challenging experience to those who venture to them.

So, whether you enjoy the camaraderie associated with opening day, pursue that elusive state record in one of our trophy trout lakes or yearn for the solitude of fishing on a wild trout stream, there are ample opportunities for all. I invite you enjoy them to the fullest extent possible and hope you have a pleasurable outing while fishing for trout in New Jersey.

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