Hopatcong catches new trout

Many request stock despite fishing decline
Wednesday, March 09, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Heeding a call from community leaders, lakeside businesses and a local fishing club, the state Fish and Game Council unanimously agreed yesterday to continue stocking Lake Hopatcong with trout.

"We've had a lot of good public input on this," said Martin McHugh, director of the state's Division of Fish and Wildlife. "We came to understand the culture and tradition of fishing up there (Lake Hopatcong) and we took it into account."

Fish and Game Chairman Scott Ellis said the state received about 1,300 correspondences, mostly from the Lake Hopatcong community, on a plan to eliminate seven large lakes from the state's annual trout stocking program beginning next year.

Public input will continue to be accepted until the plan is finalized and adopted sometime this fall.

The trout elimination plan was a direct response to plummeting sales of state fishing licenses, brought on by a decline in public interest in fishing.

Only 132,668 licenses were sold in 2003, compared with224,946 in 1991. Additionally, the sale of trout stamps, which are required for any angler to pursue trout, dropped from 145,438 in 1991 to 75,864 in 2003.

The original state plan was to redirect the 25,890 trout normally stocked each year at the seven lakes to more heavily fished rivers and about eight smaller, urban lakes that offer better public access. The state Bureau of Fresh Water Fisheries, which raises and stocks 2.2 million fresh water fish a year around the state, including 575,000 trout, said the redirection would entice more people to fish.

Still on the trout elimination list are the Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County, Cranberry Lake in Sussex County, the Manasquan Reservoir in Monmouth County, Pompton Lake in Passaic County, the Canistear Reservoir in Sussex County and Mountain Lake in Warren County.

Although Lake Hopatcong has been spared, it will get about 1,900 fewer trout a year than the 10,440 it has been getting. But, McHugh said, the trout will include very large brood-stock and the hardier brown trout, which are better able to survive in lakes.

Lake Hopatcong also will continue to received regular allotments of hybrid striped bass, channel catfish, walleyes, muskellunge and tiger muskies the state has annually stocked there, he said.

"It's a partial win," said Arthur Ondish, head of the Lake Hopatcong Commission. "Anything is better than nothing. I think it should be fully stocked, but there's still time. The decision isn't made yet."

Bill Clark, an angler with the 1,200-member Knee Deep Club, a fishing group, was torn.

"I'm a little disappointed because I thought we had given them enough ammunition that they would agree to continue to stock the same number of trout as they did before," he said.

Trout anglers reel in victory

Wednesday, March 9, 2005


UPPER FREEHOLD - Lake Hopatcong will continue to get its annual stocking of trout after all.

But starting in 2006, six other favored fishing spots - including Canistear Reservoir and Pompton Lake - won't, as state wildlife planners begin a trade-off: Some of the trout that went into those lakes will now be used to stock suburban and urban ponds, including Potash Lake in Oakland and Dahnert's Lake in Garfield.

Bowing to pressure from North Jersey anglers, the state Fish and Game Council on Tuesday reversed an initial proposal and voted to continue stocking in Lake Hopatcong next year. But it enacted the other changes, as of spring 2006, to spur the flagging sales of fishing licenses by bringing the king of freshwater fish to more populated areas.

Lisa Barno, manager of fisheries for the state Fish and Wildlife Division, said that since 1991, the sale of fishing licenses has plunged by 41 percent, to 135,000. "It's an economic issue," she said.

Barno's original plan called for stopping trout stocking in Lake Hopatcong, the nine-mile-long lake in the counties of Morris and Sussex that is one of the region's premier sports fishing destinations. At public hearings last month, though, the Knee-Deep Club, a powerful fishing club with about 1,200 members in the Lake Hopatcong area, complained vociferously.

Barno reported Tuesday at the Fish and Game Council meeting that 142 public comments were against her plan for Hopatcong, while only two comments were for continued stocking of Pompton Lake and three in favor of continued stocking of Canistear Reservoir in Vernon.

The other four lakes in which the stocking of brown, rainbow, and brook trout will end in 2006 are Mountain and Cranberry lakes and Manasquan and Spruce Run reservoirs.

More than 13,000 boats are registered for use on Lake Hopatcong, and fishing is a major tourist draw there. Bill Clark, head of the Knee-Deep Club, said there are five fishing shops at the lake "plus the diners and luncheonettes and bars. You know the biggest fish are caught in the bars and diners."

The Knee-Deep Club itself stocks trout at Lake Hopatcong; in the last decade it has spent $250,000 doing so, said Clark. Tim Clancy, the club's spokesman who attended Tuesday's council meeting at the Assunpink Wildlife Management center in Upper Freehold, said the club would be ordering $18,000 worth of brown, rainbow and brook trout for this season.

The Lake Hopatcong anglers did not win the whole battle, however. The Fish and Game Council voted to cut the trout stocking there by nearly 20 percent, from 10,440 to 8,490, as well as to add more brown trout to the mix, include larger fish, and stock earlier in the spring when tourists concentrate on trout before turning to warm-water fish in the summer. Trout season begins April 9 this year.

The cut angered Clancy: "Two thousand trout will be eliminated from Hopatcong," he said. "The concept is to benefit the revenue stream. Yet when the perception sinks in that there are less fish at Hopatcong, some people might keep on going and do their fishing in Pennsylvania."

Clark said the Knee-Deep Club began stocking Lake Hopatcong in 1953. He said 3,000 trout stamps - add-ons for fishing licenses - are now sold at the lake each year, and that this has risen steadily since 1991. Fishing licenses cost $22.50 a year, $12.50 for senior citizens; trout stamps cost an added $10.50 a year.

"It is ironic that the council wants to cut our stocking allotment in order to raise interest in buying fishing licenses, while in fact we're selling more than ever at Hopatcong," he declared.

The only Fish and Game Council member to vote against the change to Lake Hopatcong stocking was Jack Schrier, who also is a Morris County freeholder.

Barno was clear in explaining that the changes she sought were not based on the biological management of trout. She explained that trout dumped into "warm-water bodies" - shallow lakes or ponds - do not survive the hot weather and thus do not reproduce as do trout placed in cold streams. This would be the case, she added, no matter if the warm-water bodies were lakes such as Hopatcong or the little impoundments such as the 21-acre Potash, just north of Pompton Lake, and three-acre Dahnert's in Bergen County.

The state raises trout at the Pequest Trout Hatchery in Warren County and stocks waterways before the opening of the spring trout season in early April and then again late in the year.

"The reason [for the changes] is economic impact," Barno said. "The fish we stock in such places are about 10-1/2 inches long, making them 18 months old. The average cost to us is $1.50 a fish. That is half the market value of about $3, what you would pay at a private hatchery.

"Some of the fish saved will be put into these smaller ponds," Barno said.

"This will make it handier for more people to go fishing, and for youngsters to get started in fishing. The rest of the fish saved will be put into 16 major streams, what we call trout-maintenance streams where they will survive the summer."

A few other changes were made to the fishing code for 2006, said Barno.

Four small streams that have proved "self-sustaining" for trout will not be stocked; the fall trout stocking program will be cut from 50,000 fish to 20,000, but instead of 9-inchers being released, 12- to 16-inch trout will be stocked; and the winter trout stocking program will be cut from 10,000 to 5,000 fish, but again, larger fish will be released.

The only change effective this year, she added, is that browns, rainbows and brooks will be added earlier in the trout season to ponds and lakes.

After settling the trout issue Tuesday, the Fish and Game Council discussed with a lawyer its plan for another bear hunt next fall. In a recent decision, the state Supreme Court said that to justify a hunt as a bear-control option, the council must come up with a comprehensive bear management program agreeable to the state environmental commissioner.


Hopatcong to keep its trout stock

Volume of public comment sways game commission
Herald Staff Writer

Lake Hopatcong is likely to remain a welcoming place for trout anglers next year thanks to a New Jersey Fish and Game Council decision Tuesday to remove the lake from a proposal that would have ended 52 years of trout stocking.
Tuesday’s meeting was not all good news for Lake Hopatcong, the state’s largest lake at 2,685 acres. The council voted to cut the number of trout stocked at the lake by 20 percent.
The council also voted Tuesday to stop stocking four streams in Sussex County that already have reproducing brook trout populations: Biers Kill, Roy Spring Brook, Shimers Brook and Tuttles Corner Brook.
The proposed changes would amend the 2006-2007 Fish Code. The proposal next goes to the New Jersey Register. Anglers will then have 60 days to comment and a public hearing will be held. Such hearings are typically held in September.
In December, the Division of Fish and Wildlife had proposed to discontinue stocking Lake Hopatcong in 2006, along with six other large lakes: Cranberry Lake and the Canistear Reservoir in Sussex County, Mountain Lake in Warren County, Spruce Run Reservoir in Hunterdon County, the Manasquan Reservoir in Monmouth County and Pompton Lake in Passaic County.
The fish normally stocked in these lakes would be relocated to different streams and lakes, in an attempt to attract new anglers and thereby boost the revenue the state gets by selling the stamps anglers need to legally keep the trout they catch.
The council voted Tuesday morning to adopt the proposal minus Lake Hopatcong.
After the initial proposal, the council allowed a three-month comment period that drew more than 1,300 responses, the majority about Lake Hopatcong, said Scott Ellis, chairman of the Fish and Game Council.
Elwood Knight, chairman of the council’s Fish Committee, explained Tuesday’s decision.
“The sportsmen demonstrated,” Knight said, “that there is still a strong interest in trout fishing at Lake Hopatcong. As a result, dropping it from the program would be contrary to countering declining license sales.”
The council also decided to make Lake Hopatcong a seasonal trout fishery, meaning it will be stocked with about 1,900 fewer trout each spring.
“I don’t understand the logic of the decision to reduce the amount of trout,” said Tim Clancy, director of the Knee Deep Club of Lake Hopatcong, an organization that has been fighting the proposal since its inception. Knee Deep, a fishing club that has been on the lake since 1946, claims about 1,200 members.
“We just thought they would stock it or not stock it. We didn’t know there was a door number three,” said Clancy, who attended the Tuesday meeting at the Assunpink Wildlife Management Area in Monmouth County.
Clancy said he feels sorry for the anglers of the six lakes where the trout stocking will be discontinued.
“Some of the people who fish at those lakes don’t even know what happened,” he said, “and they are entitled to the same opportunities to fish. We’re happy for our lake, but sad for theirs.”
Clancy said he was pleased with the council’s decision to stock Lake Hopatcong with more brown trout earlier next year.
Brown trout are better suited than rainbow or brook trout for living in lakes, Clancy said, because they can survive in warm waters during the summer. And, Clancy said, he’s glad the state is stocking all types of trout earlier because that gives them more time to acclimate to living in the wild before the summer comes.
Including trout, the Division of Fish and Wildlife invests more than $100,000 annually into Lake Hopatcong through various stocking programs, which include muskellunge, tiger muskies, walleyes, hybrid striped bass and channel catfish.



Trout anglers relieved at state's plan to stock Lake Hopatcong

Thursday, March 10, 2005
Star-Ledger Staff

Anglers loyal to Lake Hopatcong reacted with mixed feelings to the state's announcement this week that it would spare New Jersey's largest freshwater lake from its plan to redirect trout into rivers and smaller lakes.

Beginning in 2006, the state Fish and Game Council plans to stock Lake Hopatcong with 8,540 trout, 1,900 fewer than it currently drops in the Morris and Sussex county lake. The council still plans to redirect trout out of six other lakes and into streams, in an attempt to lure more anglers.

Tim Clancy, a member of the 1,200-strong Knee Deep Club at Lake Hopatcong, was pleased the state would not neglect the lake, but was troubled by the reduction.

"I don't see the gain, but I do see the pain that's going to be felt," said Clancy, a former club president. "I don't see any benefit to anybody."

Though state figures show the number of trout stamp sales, which are mandatory to fish trout, have dipped from 145,438 in 1991 to 75,864 in 2003, Clancy argues Lake Hopatcong is still a popular fishing spot. In April and May, when the cold-water fish are biting, trout anglers flock to the lake, Clancy said.

"They're suffering from a lack of license sales and trout stamp sales and that may be true over the entire state, but that's not true here at Lake Hopatcong," added Bill Clark, field operations director of the Lake Hopatcong Commission.

In addition, boaters who fish for trout will not be as attracted to rivers, where boats are generally prohibited, Clancy said.

Some opponents of the plan called the announcement something of a victory for the lake, where trout fishing is so popular that opening day on the lake in April could rival Memorial Day weekend at the Jersey Shore.

"Beautiful. It's a partial win," said Arthur Ondish, head of the lake commission, upon hearing the news. "Anything is better than nothing. I think it should be fully stocked, but there's still time. The decision isn't made yet."

The proposal is to redirect trout out of the six large lakes and into more heavily fished rivers and eight smaller, urban lakes that are more accessible to the public.

Businesses around Lake Hopatcong were relieved about the reversal. Many boat rental companies, marinas and restaurants dreaded the loss in revenue if trout were eliminated.

"We were concerned. I'm sure we would have seen a drop," said Kevin Campbell, a sales clerk at Ramsey Outdoor in Ledgewood. "It's good for business. For the store, I think it's going to work out quite well. We still have a lot of guys who come to the store who fish Lake Hopatcong (for trout)."

The Knee Deep Club will continue stocking roughly 2,800 trout in the lake this year, but Clancy was uncertain whether the club would increase its contribution to compensate for the state's reduction.

Clark said he does not want to see any drop in the number of trout.