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Gone fishing: How to get started at Long Island's freshwater lakes and ponds

Just in time for the traditional opening of

Just in time for the traditional opening of the spring fishing season on April 1, the state DEC is stocking Long Island lakes and ponds with nearly 15,000 fish. One of those spots is the lake at the Twin Lakes Preserve in Wantagh where local fishermen were eager to pursue the new supply of fish.   Credit: Corey Sipkin

For many Long Islanders, April marks the unofficial start of fishing season. Maybe that’s because the weather’s getting warmer and signs of spring, like blooming daffodils and returning ospreys, trigger a primal urge that draws piscators to the water in search of an easy meal.

"More likely, it has something to do with trucks," veteran angler Peter Tarnowski says with a laugh. "By April Fools’ Day, the D.E.C. hatchery trucks have visited all the stocking locations at least once. That means there’s plenty of fish to go around, so let the fun begin."

LOADING UP THE WATER

Indeed, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (D.E.C.) deposits approximately 18,000 trout, a mix of browns and rainbows, across more than 20 locations in Nassau and Suffolk counties each year. The vast majority of these, nearly 15,000, are released into local rivers, lakes and ponds during late March and April with some 3,400 more added to select locations each fall.

Additionally, each spring New York State Parks stocks Belmont Lake with 1,200 trout, Caleb Smith State Park with 2,900, and loads-up McDonald Pond and South Lake in Hempstead State Park with another 1,500 trout, and supplies supplemental stocking before the spring and fall Family Fishing & Children’s Festival held at Belmont Lake and Hempstead State Park, respectively. This year’s festival has been canceled, but the lake remains open for fishing.

Still, spring trout fishing isn’t just about reeling in fish, notes Tarnowski, a 49-year-old sales engineer. "Catching’s fun, but after a long winter I love being outside, having a little room to myself, and casting in beautiful places," says the East Northport resident whose largest trout was a 21.5-inch trophy rainbow caught and released at Connetquot River State Park.

"That’s the beauty of trout fishing," says Bobby Turturello of Causeway Bait and Tackle in Wantagh. "It gets people outdoors and kicks off the season with a bang. There are plenty of places to try, it’s inexpensive, you only need and hour or two, and you can fish while practicing social distancing … Many of our customers do well at Upper Twin Pond in Wantagh and at Massapequa Reservoir."

CATCHING RULES

Heidi O’Riordan, regional fisheries manager for the D.E.C., points out that stockings are skewed to help maximize angler success. "Typically, our trout travel hungry because we don’t feed them for a day or two before loading the stocking trucks. So, when those fish hit the water, they are usually aggressive right from the start. Trout are cold-water fish and few stockies are expected to survive the summer months, so there’s no shame in taking home your daily three-trout limit."

O’Riordan noted that stocking distribution, fishing regulations and guidelines are updated yearly. This spring, for example, anglers should be pleased to learn that as part of a new trout stream management plan, 10% of stream stocked trout will be 12- to 14-inch two-year-old browns, these in addition to 9-inch yearling rainbows. In a nod to the COVID-19 pandemic, specific guidelines suggest anglers maintain one full fishing rod length between themselves.

While Tarnowski loves the tranquility of early season trout fishing, Wesley Walker, 65, the former New York Jet NFL football player, loves the social aspect. "I like to go with my wife, Barbara Ann, or some friends, and I fished a lot with my son when he was younger," he stated. "I don’t fish as much as I’d like because my wife and I are busy running a private company (Companionship Aid Services) that helps provide care for the elderly, but I still find time to go when the trout are biting."

Emir Radoncic, an IT Manager from Baldwin, is already planning his first trout outing of the spring. "I’m taking my kids, Selma (8), Kenan (5-1/2) and Leila (3), to Upper Lake in Yaphank. We’re going with Grandpa — and this will be Leila’s first fishing trip. We’re relatively new to fishing and haven’t caught a trout yet — but I like the idea of the lake being stocked, and that anyone can join the fun — even an IT guy.

As for those stocking trucks, O’Riordan says its arrival each spring ranks among her highlights of the year.

"Everyone’s so happy when it pulls up. They reach for their phones, call their friends and say: ‘Hurry up and get here.’ Soon the trout start biting and the smiles get bigger. It really is a rewarding sight."

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

License: Before heading out, make sure to purchase a New York State freshwater fishing license (ny.gov; $25 for ages 16 to 69, $5 for 70 or older). With few exceptions, you’ll need it for ages 16 or older. Also, check out the latest NYS freshwater fishing regulations at dec.ny.gov/outdoor/7917.html.

Top spots: Heidi O’Riordan, regional fisheries manager for the D.E.C. suggests Massapequa Reservoir, Upper Lake in Yaphank, and Laurel Lake in Mattituck. Oyster Bay Mill Pond, Argyle Lake in Babylon, Belmont Lake, West Lake in Patchogue and Trout Pond in Sag Harbor (stocked by Southampton Town) are also good bets.

The full list of stocking areas can be found online at dec.ny.gov/outdoor/23286.html for Suffolk County and dec.ny.gov/outdoor/23311.html for Nassau County. To receive a free stocking list by mail, or add your name to the D.E.C. email list, contact: 631-444-0280; fwfish1@dec.ny.gov.

Top lures: Small spinners and spoon-style lures weighing 1/8- to ¼-ounce are popular.

Top baits: Berkley Power Bait, corn kernels and half a night crawler are perennial favorites.

Top flies: Peter Tarnowski suggests mop flies for Connetquot River and Caleb Smith State Park, or a bushy dry fly along the lines of an Elk Hair Caddis for ponds.

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