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Trout season is almost upon us

Judy Van Put - Columnist
Posted 3/29/21

Spring has arrived! To celebrate along with the official start of the trout fishing season, the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum will be opening to the public after a three-month winter hiatus. …

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Trout season is almost upon us

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Spring has arrived! To celebrate along with the official start of the trout fishing season, the Catskill Fly Fishing Center & Museum will be opening to the public after a three-month winter hiatus.

Jill Borenstein, CFFCM's head of special projects, stated that April 2 - 4 will be a “socially distant weekend” with a fly-casting clinic on the field and a guest fly-tier, as well as a weekend-long raffle. On Saturday you can sample some of Agnes Van Put's famous homemade soup. Agnes, Gift Shop hostess, is 104 years young and has been warming the hearts of CFFCM visitors with her homemade soup and cookies and sunny personality for more than 30 years.

The Museum will present its new exhibit - Dave Brandt, long-time fly-fisherman and inductee of CFFCM's “Catskill Legends.” Entry to the Museum is free of charge on Saturday. The CFFCM will be open Fridays through Mondays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Stop by and see the newly reorganized Gift Shop and Museum exhibits, reconnect with old friends, and meet the new staff.

A tradition held dear for generations is celebrating the opening of the trout season. One of the very first conservation measures in New York State was the establishment of a trout fishing season, which has run from Spring through Autumn since the 1800s. The closing date coincided with the beginning of spawning season to protect trout during this vulnerable period of their lifecycle; the Spring opening was chosen to give the fish a chance to recover from the stresses of spawning.

In his book “Superior Fishing,” published in 1865, Robert Roosevelt states: “The universal rule should be comprehensive and simple … protection should be given during the spawning season, and for such a period before and after as to prevent the annihilation of those who have survived the numerous dangers that surround them … and to allow them to recover from the exhaustion resulting from the operation … Trout spawn from the middle of October to the latter part of November, and do not recover their condition till the opening of Spring.”

On April 1 the NYSDEC imposes new state-wide trout fishing regulations, which include the highly controversial action of allowing catch-and-release fishing in all trout streams during the spawning season. Included in this new approach are “simplified regulations,” “more fishing opportunities,” and “a high priority and value placed on wild trout and wild trout waters.”

Previously, anglers could fish for spawning trout in tributaries of the Great Lakes, while the famed trout streams of the Catskills received greater protection due to their pristine and fragile ecosystem. These new blanket regulations will cover the entire state, including the Catskills.

“More fishing opportunities” begin on Oct. 16, the day after the regular season closes, through March 31, the day before the fishing season reopens. Many Catskill trout fishers find this particularly upsetting, allowing fishing when wild trout are most vulnerable. It gives one pause to consider why - this new, relaxed policy contradicts the DEC's own stated goal of conservation, which is why the trout season was established more than 150 years ago. Perhaps it's an attempt to pander to those unaware that trout, like other species, need a break during their reproductive cycle.

Trout thrive in the coldest and cleanest waters; one of the joys of trout fishing is spending time in beautiful surroundings and connecting with a living creature. We teach our children to respect the environment and its wildlife. What are we teaching our youngsters by allowing them to fish during this critical stage in a trout's short life?

Even catch-and-release fishing for spawning fish is unsportsmanlike and exploitive by taking advantage of them. Trout require months of time to survive the act of spawning - some will die from the stress and strain - without the added harassment of being disturbed by eager anglers. Those who catch spawning fish might be disappointed at the helplessness some exhibit; handling these trout to remove the hook can cause them to discharge their eggs, eliminating countless potential offspring.

There are already miles of catch-and-release “No-Kill” areas that can be fished year-round; these areas were specifically chosen because they are sections of larger streams where trout spawning is not successful.

It flies in the face of reason that encouraging people to fish year-round would achieve the goal of a “high priority and value placed on wild trout and wild trout waters.”

Disturbing spawning trout is deleterious, resulting in less trout being hatched in the wild. As it is, there are never enough wild trout in our streams to satisfy angling pressure, which is why the DEC began to stock hatchery-raised fish.

The DEC received nearly 500 comments from the public on the overall plan through e-mail and letters. 471 of these conveyed specific concerns, recommendations or endorsements; most objections pertained to the state-wide, catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only season from Oct. 16 to March 31.

Despite these concerns, the DEC is proceeding with their new regulations as planned. Additionally, many trout streams will be receiving less stockings of hatchery fish. Coupled with encouraging more anglers to fish during the vulnerable spawning period, it is doubtful that this will result in an increase in wild trout populations.

The new regulations will take effect on April 1. It remains to be seen how the trout will fare.

Judy Van Put is a long-time member of the NYS Outdoor Writers Association, and is the recipient of the New York State Council of Trout Unlimited's Professional Communications Award.

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