April 1st is always a big day for anglers -- opening day of trout season.
While we have a year-round fishery for trout on the Great Lakes, many fishermen and fisherwomen still look forward to plying the waters flowing from and between Western New York’s hills and mountains. While stream trout might be much smaller than their lake-run counterparts, they are warier and tastier. Being surrounded by the tranquility of farmland and forests adds to the experience.
This Thursday, and for the next 2 months, anglers will take to the Southern Tiers’ waters in great numbers. The locals will gets some casts in before or after work. The out-of-towners, the “campers”, will make their pilgrimages on the opener and on weekends.
Most of them, whether the waterway is in their backyard or in their daydreams, might not know that some dramatic changes are coming to the sport. This year, April 1 doesn’t mark just the beginning of a new season, it marks the beginning of a new era.
Last Wednesday, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) announced the finalization of new regulations. DEC Commissioner Basil Seggos said about them, “These regulations not only extend fishing opportunities, but also balance the desires of New York State's diverse trout stream anglers with our responsibility to manage these resources to their fullest ecological and recreational potential.”
Among the most impactful changes are revised daily creel limits. For the traditional season that runs April 1 through October 15, there is a limit of 5 trout per day with no more than 2 longer than 12 inches for waters categorized as Wild or Stocked. Wild-Quality or Stocked-Extended waters now see a limit of 3 trout per day with no more than 1 longer than 12 inches. Waters now designated as Wild-Premier will have a creel limit of 1 per day, any size.
To determine what category your favorite stream or river falls into, make it a point to read the new fishing syllabus. Do not -- I repeat, do not -- use the guide you might have picked up when you renewed your license. The new ones will be available at licensing outlets the second week of April. In the meantime, it’s critical that you go to the DEC’s website and download the April 1 version. The web address is tinyurl.com/TroutApril1
While looking through the document, you will notice a welcome change. Stream trout anglers will be afforded year-round fishing statewide, but, from October 16 through March 31 (the “offseason”), you will have to use artificial lures only and it’s all catch-and-release.
I strongly suggest you pay especially close attention to the many revisions impacting the Genesee River as it flows through Allegany County from the PA line to the dam in Belmont. This stretch of the Genny is incredibly popular. Not only do locals line the bridges and parking areas, but visitors come from all over the country to pursue trout in what can be compared to some of the best trout rivers in the western US.
Many Genesee anglers are unaware of the new regulations and they might not be keen on some of them.
For starters, the no-kill, no-bait zone in Shongo that had been in place since 1990 has been extended a mile or so downstream to the big bridge on County Road 29 in Willing/York’s Corners. That will impact countless fishers and families – that bridge and points south provided an incredible stretch of roadside access; it was easy for a family to park the minivan, unload a couple of chairs, and have the kids dunk worms in an attempt to catch dinner. No longer can they cast bait or keep fish right there. That same spot is also overrun with anglers during the Wellsville Trout Derby – they will be in for a rude awakening when the derby resumes in 2021.
Outside that zone, the creel limit has been changed to 3 fish, with only one a foot or more in length. This Wednesday marks the last day of the old rules (5 fish, 2 can be 12 inches or more). It’s a far cry from the turn of the century laws that, perhaps excessively, allowed 10 trout.
Last, but not least, the Genesee River had been, for a few decades now, one of the few inland trout streams in the state in which you could pursue and keep trout all year long. Those winter dinners will be a thing of the past, as, going forward, all off-season trout must be returned to the water.
This columnist loves the Genesee River. While I am saddened that my favorite roadside spot for the kids will no longer allow the simplicity of baitfishing, and that I will no longer have tasty table fare in December, I appreciate what the Commissioner, the DEC, and the Region 9 fisheries team are doing to protect the fishery. When I go to the Genny I am amazed by the size of the rainbows I catch and see -- there are no other trout streams I know of in New York without direct access to a lake that produce so many fish in the 18” to 24” range with some outliers, like the one I caught last year, in excess of 26”. That’s a world-class fishery. The DEC is making sure it stays that way.
So, before you hit the water in the coming days and weeks, read up on what you can, cannot do.
Changes are coming…changes that are necessary to ensure only the best for the fish and we who target them.
From the 29 March 2021 Greater Niagara Newspapers and Batavia Daily News