There are stockies, and then there are stockies.
There are the nine-inch yearling brown trout stocked by the millions across New York by the Department of Environmental Conservation. They’re perfectly nice little fish, and they can provide good sport, especially after they’ve gained a couple of inches and a few ounces and gotten wise to their new surroundings.
There are the 2-year-old browns stocked by the state on a “supplemental” basis so anglers will at least have a shot at catching a large trout now and then. They actually seem a little more gullible, at least at first, than the yearlings. But at 15 inches or so in length and weights of a pound or more, they’re beautiful trout and great fun to connect with.
And then there are “club fish.”
These are the real beauties stocked by private fish and game clubs on privately owned stretches of streams in places where club members have access but the general public doesn’t.
Sometimes, you’ll get lucky and catch a club fish that wandered away from its post. If you’re really lucky, like I was on Sunday, you’ll find a whole gang of club fish on your side of the “Posted” signs.
I was watching a thick hatch of caddis flies on the Neversink River in the Catskills and scanning for rises
as I made my way up the edge of a long pool.
After a whole winter of daydreaming about dry-fly fishing, I was glad to see a number of trout rising just this side of a low, natural-looking dam of rocks that spanned the stream, a shallow falls that formed the head of the pool. I figured the trout were probably stocked yearlings — this was near an official DEC access point, after all, and it stood to reason the DEC would put some trout there — and I got into position and began casting to rises.
After a few casts, a trout grabbed the Elk-Hair Caddis I was fishing. I was pleased when the fish exhibited some strength at the start of the fight — and then I was stunned when it bolted for the far bank, ripping line from my whining reel like a steelhead. I was able to lower my rod tip, turn the fish back toward me and regain some line, only to have the fish dash off again, and then again. This was no yearling brown. This wasn’t a supplemental 2-year-old or even a wild brown.
This fish fought like a rainbow, and when I finally got it in the net, that’s what it turned out to be — a porky, short-headed 14-incher that I could barely get my hand around. It was ice-cold and gorgeous, with lots of fine dark spots and a subtle inch-wide pink stripe down its flanks. I caught another one a little while later that looked exactly like the first one, but shot into the air like a missile from a submarine when it felt the hook, and leapt twice more before giving up. There were two more fish I hooked, but lost, and another that broke my 4X tippet.
Rainbows on Neversink, which everyone knows is a brown trout stream?
Gazing upriver and wondering what the heck was going on, I saw that fish were rising like crazy in the flat water on the other side of the low dam. Several anglers were fishing there, but none ever came downstream of the dam, even though there was room for them. Then I noticed the cluster of orange “Posted” signs on the streamside trees, right where the dam crossed the river, and then I figured it out.
Upstream of the dam was club water — what club, I don’t know — and I had been having a jolly time with some of the club’s fish that ended up on the public side of the property line.
My hypothesis was confirmed by a young guy who eventually worked his way up to fish near me, after lingering around the middle of the pool for quite a while.
I have a little experience with club trout myself. I was a founding member of the Fly Fishers Anglers’ Association in Utica, which raises money from the public in a campaign called Bucks for Browns and uses it to buy beautiful, extra-large browns that are stocked in public water on West Canada Creek.
Of course, those trout are put in West Canada for the public to catch, not just for FFAA members. I bet the average angler who doesn’t know they are there and hooks up with one enjoys it as much as I
enjoyed those unexpected Neversink rainbows.
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