The weather will be colder and icier than usual when New York opens for trout and salmon fishing on Monday, but anglers are still expecting a good season.
“I don’t see anything that’s going to make it less good,” said Heath Clayson, president of the Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited, a group dedicated to the Capital Region’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds.
According to the state Department of Conservation, anglers should brace themselves for chilly and potentially dangerous conditions, particularly in the northern areas of the state, as the forecast calls for high, cold water and icy banks and streambeds. The agency said fishing should improve when water temperatures warm later in the spring and aquatic insects become more active.
The quality of fishing remains to be seen.
This year, fewer fish will be released in the DEC’s annual trout stocking program because of a severe disease outbreak at the DEC fish hatchery in Rome that resulted in the “catastrophic loss of young brown trout,” according to Lori Severino, a spokeswoman for the agency.
The fish were devastated by a bacterial disease called furunculosis, as well as a parasite called ich, according to Severino. As a result, the state has about 320,000 fewer brown trout yearlings to stock this year than in 2012.
But there should still be plenty of fish.
This year DEC plans to stock more than 2.1 million catchable-size brook, brown and rainbow trout in 307 lakes and ponds and about 3,000 miles of streams throughout the state. On Monday the agency will stock Six Mile Waterworks in Albany with nearly 2,000 rainbow trout during a free fishing event to kick off the 2013 fresh water fishing season. People are welcome to fish without a license between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m.
In New York, spring stocking begins in March and ends in May.
On its website, the DEC provides a county-by-county breakdown of the number and kinds of fish expected to be released into ponds and streams. In Schenectady, the agency plans to stock one location: the Lisha Kill in Niskayuna, where 650 brown trout will be released. The list of stocking sites for other Capital Region counties is much more extensive.
According to the DEC, early season trout tend to be lethargic, and anglers will be most successful if they use bait and lures such as spinners, which can be fished slow and deep.
In some areas, the number of fish is not as high as people want it to be.
John Sheehan, a spokesman for the environmental group the Adirondack Council, said there are still concerns about the impact of acid rain on the fish in the Adirondacks. He said while the water quality has steadily improved and the native fish population has slowly increased, “acid rain still causes a lot of stress” and that the number of trout has still not been fully restored. Another problem is climate change: Trout need cold water to thrive, and the temperature of the streams and ponds in the Adirondacks is expected to rise.
As to whether the damage caused by tropical storms Irene and Lee had any lingering effect, Sheehan said “We’re still trying to get a handle on that.”
Clayson said Irene and Lee, as well as the dredging work done by emergency crews to clear out streams in the wake of the storms, caused a lot of damage that still needs to be addressed. The Clearwater Chapter of Trout Unlimited is working to stabilize riverbanks, particularly in the Adirondacks.
“There’s a lot of work to be done,” he said.
SUNY Cobleskill’s Department of Fisheries and Wildlife conducted a study of the changes in the fish community in the Schoharie Creek’s tributaries following Irene and Lee. The research team focused on eight streams that historically contained brook trout, brown trout or rainbow trout, surveying the streams before and after the flood.
According to the study, the trout population went down in five of eight heavily altered streams.