In an effort to help reel in the spread of novel coronavirus, the area's traditional April 1 Opening Day trout derbies are off.
But as it encourages people to get outside, the state wants to make it clear that New York fishing is open for business.
Tuesday, the Department of Environmental Conservation assured anglers that stocking of waterways is well underway and that Opening Day will proceed as planned. DEC reminded people to follow state guidelines regarding hand washing and social distancing when enjoying outdoor recreation to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
"Fishing is good for the mind and body,’’ DEC commissioner Basil Seggos said in a statement, adding that Gov. Andrew Cuomo remains committed to investing in New York’s sport fishing industry which the statement said generates $2.14 billion in economic activity each year.
While many waters are open to year-round fishing, springtime “is the main event,’’ Seggos said.
“Water temperatures are rising, causing trout to feed more aggressively, and present a perfect opportunity for anglers,’’ he said. “I encourage all anglers to get outside and fish, but act responsibly by practicing social distancing and staying safe."
While fishermen can keep the suggested 6 feet of distance between themselves and others while standing along the banks of Naples and Irondequoit creeks, it’s not possible to prevent large gatherings of people while operating weigh stations and awards ceremonies.
That led organizers of the 59th annual Naples Creek Trout Derby to cancel their event and for organizers of the Riedman Foundation and Fish Hatchery Opening Day Trout Derby at Powder Mills Park to postpone.
“We hated to do it, but we had to,’’ said Jane Schenk of the Naples Rotary Club, which operates the historic Naples derby. “Unfortunately, it’s just one of those things.’’
The Naples contest attracts 500 entrants annually and is a boon for the quaint Finger Lakes village’s tackle shops, restaurants and convenience stores. Even without the derby, Schenk said the village is prepared for more visitors on April 1.
“There will still probably be a lot of fishermen here, but the restaurants in town are just doing take out,’’ she said. “But fishing hasn’t been canceled, just the derby.’’
While prizes won’t be netted, fish will be.
At Powder Mills Park, manager Ron Mitchell said he plans to stock a portion of the 19,500 brown trout reared each year at the John Riedman Fish Hatchery in anticipation of anglers still keeping their Opening Day traditions.
Most of the fish, however, will be held in their raceways in hopes that the Riedman derby can take place at some point in April or May when the water levels and temperatures are still conducive to safely releasing fish without a die off.
“We’ve postponed the derby for now, but I can guarantee people will be showing up April 1 to fish, so we felt it’s a good idea to stock some,’’ Mitchell said. “I have a tentative date to stock, nothing set yet, but within the next five days.’’
Mitchell said he will trim the number of volunteers needed in order that social distancing protocols can be followed.
Last year’s derby drew 400 entrants. The event utilizes one of the park’s lodges for registrations, weigh-in, and awards. The hatchery is open and continues to draw a steady stream of visitors, Mitchell said, particularly with children home from school and family’s looking to get outdoors.
“We’re seeing a lot of traffic,’’ he said. “We did close the bathrooms because there were a couple days last week, last Thursday, when probably 300 people came through and it was getting out of hand. We’re leaving the (fish) feeding machines out for now, but that can change. Everybody goes up to the machines and touches them.’’
The state issued a reminder for people to remain vigilant in helping stop the spread of not just COVID-19 but influenza, even when outdoors: Try to keep at least 6 feet of distance between you and others; avoid close contact, such as shaking hands, hugging, and kissing; wash hands often or use a hand sanitizer when soap and water are not available; avoid surfaces that are touched often, such as doorknobs, handrails, and playground equipment; if a parking lot or trail head is crowded, find others to use.
That state’s hatchery system produces 2.27 million catch-worthy brook, brown and rainbow trout that are stocked into more than 300 lakes and ponds and 2,800 miles of streams. Most of these fish are brown trout (1.68 million). While most are 8-9 inches in size, the input includes 98,000 2-year-old fish that measure up to 14 inches.
In Monroe County, stocking sites include Oatka Creek (7,260 brown trout) and Irondequoit Creek (7,000 brown trout, 2,180 rainbow trout). Lake Ontario receives 161,337 browns, stocked at Webster, Greece and Hamlin. Other sites of note in Region 8 include Canandaigua Lake outlet, Keuka Lake outlet, Catharine Creek, Canaseraga Creek and Cohocton River.
Due to coronavirus, the DEC is not seeking its usual number of volunteers to help with stocking. It asks that crowds not congregate to allow hatchery staff to safely do their jobs.