With bitter cold temperatures and snow continuing to blanket the ground, it seems like trout season won’t be here for an eternity.
But it’s coming quicker than you think.
Too quickly, in some cases.
Especially when it comes to preseason stockings.
In Luzerne County, the Big Wapwallopen Creek and Lake Frances in Nescopeck State Park will get a preseason stocking on the same day.
For one place that’s fine, for the other it’s not.
Both the creek and the lake are scheduled to receive a preseason stocking this Wednesday, March 5. Opening day of trout season is April 12, while a statewide Mentored Youth Fishing Day will be held a week earlier on April 5.
Lake Frances is the only water in the county that will be open for the statewide mentored youth day. Stocking it a month ahead of time is no big deal since the trout can’t escape the lake and will be there for the kids when April 5 rolls around.
I’m not sure the same could be said for the fish stocked in Wapwallopen Creek. The stream is scheduled to receive a stocking of rainbow trout on March 5, more than five weeks before the regular season opener.
The Lehigh River — the stretch below the Francis Walter Dam, is also being stocked fairly early — March 19.
It’s a concern.
A Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission study conducted several years ago confirmed that stocked trout move away from the areas where they were released. Sometimes the movement occurs as early as two days after the stocking and in some of the streams in the study trout had disappeared from just about all of the stocking points prior to opening day.
There was no evidence of mortality or poaching, according to the study — they just left.
An additional study conducted by the agency in 2005 monitored the movements of 4,600 trout that were tagged, including 25 that carried radio transmitters.
Research showed that most of the stocked rainbow trout moved away from stocking points within three days, while the majority of the brook trout left within 10 days.
But what about the 4,600 tagged trout? Did they all move as well?
Anglers were encouraged to report any tagged fish they caught in the streams and the PFBC conducted creel surveys over an eight-week period. The agency also electro-shocked several stocking points prior to opening day.
In all, the effort barely turned up a limit of trout.
Two stocked trout turned up during the electro-shocking work, while only six tags out of the 4,600 were reported by anglers.
There are a lot of factors behind the disappearing preseason trout. Predation is a possibility, as trout raised in concrete raceways are easy pickings for herons and raccoons. Poaching can’t be ruled out either.
The agency also suspects that poor water quality — low pH and low alkalinity, could also be a factor.
Movement, poaching or predation, whatever the cause, the researched conducted by the PFBC proved that stocked trout can and do disappear from the areas they are released. And they do it relatively quickly.
What is going to happen to the rainbow trout stocked in the Wapwallopen Creek next week? How about the brook, brown and rainbow trout that will be stocked in the Lehigh River on March 19?
For a species that likes to roam that leaves plenty of travel time before opening day.
Overall, the PFBC does a great job with its trout stocking program. Releasing almost four million fish in 857 streams and lakes across the state is no easy task.
And rest assured, there will be plenty of places to find stocked trout on opening day. Still, things can always be improved and one possible remedy to the mystery of the disappearing trout is to stock streams as close to opening day as possible and put a priority on doing the lakes first.
That way, when anglers do start thinking about trout their thoughts will be on catching fish and not wondering where they all went.