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John Jackson unloads a net full of fish into Pennsylvania’s Cold Stream Dam lake on Thursday. In Virginia and around the country, states are stocking for the opening day of the 2013 trout fishing season.
MARK TAYLOR | The Roanoke Times
Ralph Rogo fishes the Roanoke River in Salem recently. Despite his relatively late arrival, Rogo found the trout responsive.
Sunday, April 14, 2013
In the opinion of some of his peers, Ralph Rogo was wasting his time Thursday morning.
Deftly, the Roanoke County resident cast a Berkley Gulp! minnow lure into the Roanoke River in Salem, watching the nail-thin tip of his spinning rod for a bounce indicating the bite of a trout.
It had been three days since workers from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries had dipped nets of wriggling trout out of a tanker truck and slung them into the water.
Rogo was late, according to some critics of Virginia's trout stocking program.
"Regular stocked streams are fished out within a day by the truck followers," wrote Karl, when I asked readers of my blog for their thoughts on Virginia's trout stocking program.
Va Char chimed in with this: "I have fished 2 different streams this year the day after they were stocked and didn't even catch a glimpse of a trout or get a nibble."
Jim Basham wrote that he fished the Roanoke River on a Saturday after a previous stocking. He didn't get a bite.
"No one else was catching anything either," Basham wrote. "It was a beautiful day too, water temps were perfect. Threw everything I had and no bites, not even a nibble."
Putting and taking
Three people hardly constitute a significant statistical majority, but these guys were three among dozens of others who also expressed dissatisfaction with Virginia's trout fishing, particularly the put-and-take program.
The post drew 74 comments in all. While the state's wild trout program and Delayed Harvest stocking program drew some high marks, the put-and-take program was roundly criticized.
The general consensus was that if you aren't on the water immediately after it is stocked, you are pretty much out of luck.
And yet there was Rogo, with two nice brown trout on his stringer after having caught several others that he released.
Just upstream, Angie Bushcar wasn't having any luck, but the day before she'd caught several nice trout.
Which is a way of saying that things are not as bad as some critics believe.
Still, when you have that many people complaining, it's not without good reason.
Virginia has native and wild trout, and also some waters that are stocked with small trout that grow into catchable size.
But the put-and-take program is the heart of the state's trout program.
Hatchery workers put the trout in. Anglers take them out, usually as quickly as possible.
Until about 20 years ago, the taking started on the first Saturday in April, which was opening day.
But the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries ended that program in part because it was too popular. Crowds were just too big.
The state went to an open season from October through May, with the heaviest stocking in April and early May.
Every day at 4 p.m., the DGIF announces where the trucks went that day. But in the age of instant information, the news is already out by then.
The truck followers
The so-called truck followers are at the tip of the spear .
They stake out the route from the hatchery, then fall in line behind the trucks.
They are the first to put their lures and bait in front of the trout.
And, as comments on that blog post showed, they are roundly resented by fishermen who spend their weekdays at work.
Truck followers do get first crack at the fish, but that's not a guarantee for success.
Stocked trout typically need some time to acclimate to their new surroundings. The fishing often doesn't get good until after the general public has had access to stocking information.
Still, the fishermen who get first crack are at an advantage, especially on smaller waters with limited holding spots.
On ponds and bigger streams, like the Roanoke River, the advantage is minimized.
"There are still plenty of fish in here," Rogo said on Thursday.
But there is clearly widespread public frustration with put-and-take opportunities.
That frustration, which is backed by data that shows a big drop in trout license sales over the past two decades - from about 100,000 in the early 1990s to about 60,000 in recent years - shows that the program could stand to be improved.
One idea that often comes up is announcing the list of stocked waters ahead of time.
But that still doesn't help the guy who has to work during the week, when the stocking is taking place.
Closing the waters to fishing for a period immediately after stocking is another idea that gets tossed around.
There are practical challenges with that, especially in the spring when the high-priority waters are getting fish regularly.
Closing a river or pond to fishing for a few days every few weeks would cause confusion among anglers, would be an enforcement nightmare and would likely anger as many fishermen as it pleased.
So what is the answer?
Stocking more fish might help, but that's an expense and it's hard to pay for when license sales are down.
Some say that it would help if stockers spread the fish out more, instead of dumping netfuls in the same, predictable, easy-to-reach spots.
But that would take more labor, and labor is money.
Volunteers could help, but that would require a major coordination effort.
In short, there are no quick and easy answers.
But that doesn't mean the DGIF shouldn't try to find ways to improve the trout program, and they have a bunch of people - those grumblers - who should be eager to help.
It's time for the DGIF to form a stakeholder committee, such as those that have worked on big-game management plans, to take a hard look at the trout program.
Would their work take care of all the complaints?
No way. But it can't hurt to try.
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