(Editor’s note: Last summer, the state Department of Environmental Conservation released a new, 10-year State Trout Stream Management Plan. The multi-faceted plan covers a variety of issues. Today, we look at one of the components of the plan, which still needs to be finalized — a statewide, catch-and-release season, apart from the regular trout fishing season.)
Among the most talked about proposals in New York State’s Trout Stream Management Plan is the creation of a state-wide, catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only trout fishing season from Oct. 16 to March 31.
There are some streams already open for angling year-round – some that even allow anglers to keep fish during the off-season.
This new plan would open all streams for angling in the off-season. The regular, state-wide trout fishing season, when anglers are allowed to keep fish on most waterways, goes from April 1 to Oct. 15 each year.
The state Department of Environmental Conservation released the finalized version of the multi-facted plan, which would govern the agencies actions for the next 10 years, this past November. The DEC is accepting public comments on fishing regulation changes contained within it through Jan. 25, in hopes putting those changes into effect starting with the opening of the trout fishing season on April 1.
The plan focuses on in-land trout streams and rivers only and does not include Finger Lake or Great Lake tributaries in the state. It updates the DEC’s 30-year-old management plan that the state currently uses. It comes after three years of numerous public hearings, input for anglers and angler groups, the creation of a statewide focus group of veteran trout anglers and a review of the latest in fishery science research, according to the DEC. See the 50-page plan on the DEC’s website.
Issues addressed in the plan include increasing fishing opportunities for anglers, trout stocking and proposed increases in the size of fish stocked, a new emphasis on sustaining and increasing wild trout fishing populations and fishing opportunities, angler access to waterways, habitat restoration/enhancement of trout streams, simplifying and reducing the current myriad of trout fishing regulations – and doing it all in a way that is open and transparent to the general public.
The strategies outlined will be subjected to on-going evaluation during the life of the plan, DEC said.
“For the first time, we’re drawing a line in the sand between wild and stocked trout management,” said Steve Hurst, chief of the DEC’s Bureau of Fisheries. “We’re trying to satisfy an array of anglers and doing it in a responsible manner. We’re trying to make fishing fun and manage angler expectations.”
Among the concerns, notes the plan, is the decline of new trout anglers on the state’s fishing scene.
“Compared to other angler types, trout anglers tend to be older, suggesting a decline in the recruitment of new trout anglers,” the plan states. “While decreased fishing pressure would seem to make management easier in the short run, it suggests a troubling loss of connection between the public and the resource.”
Opening up all the state’s trout streams during the off-season for catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only fishing from Oct. 16 to March 31 is one way the state hopes to get more anglers out there wetting their lines and is “the single biggest change” in trout fishing regulations being proposed, according to the DEC’s proposed plan.
The state has traditionally closed off trout stream fishing during the winter months as a precaution against the disruption of wild trout reproduction. Many states, though, including Pennsylvania “have sustainably managed wild trout populations without a closed season,” the DEC said.
For more than a decade, the plan notes, New York has opened up a few trout streams across the state for year-round angling and has “gained confidence and found it is feasible to sustainably manage wild trout with a a winter catch-and-release season.” Also, despite “intuition and long-established angling tradition .. the science shows no evidence of harm at the population level (of trout) where catch and release angling is permitted.”
Some have questioned whether such a season would result in a rash of poachers using bait and keeping fish. Hurst said that would be issue for law enforcement, not his department.
“Most of the angling public are law-abiding citizens. We don’t manage (these streams) around the few that aren’t law-abiding,” Hurst said.
He added that data from recent angler surveys of those fishing in the Upper Delaware River area (the East and West branches and main stem of the river) has shown a high percentage of catch and release fishing on those waterways during the regular season.
In addition to starting the new, catch-and-release season this year, the DEC’s management plan calls for a “multi-year study to assess how the season will affect angling pressure and trends in wild trout reproduction on 10-12 streams” — streams that have yet to be named. The study will include angler input and assistance in carrying it out. The management plan calls for the submittal of a final report on the new catch-and-release season by 2024.
See the DEC website for an assessment on the nearly 500 comments from the public on the overall plan that were received last year.
The proposed new fishing regulations mentioned in the DEC’s trout stream management plan (including the new catch-and-release season) have been published in the State Register and are available at DEC’s website. DEC is accepting public comments on the proposed rule changes through Jan. 25. Email comments to [email protected].
NEXT: How the DEC’s new Trout Stream Management Plan would affect stocking of inland streams and rivers.
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