For the Mirror
HUGHESVILLE - With 45,000 miles of rivers and streams and more than 2,500 lakes in need of fish stocking every year, the state Fish and Boat Commission has its hands full when early spring rolls around.
Fortunately, that's when volunteers such as the Consolidated Sportsmen of Muncy Creeks step in.
Club members have worked with the commission for more than 50 years, since the club's founding in 1961, raising thousands of brook and golden trout every year and helping to stock them at numerous locations in the 122-square-mile Muncy Creek watershed.
"We raise 13,000 and all of them go into the watershed," said Ward Yorks, a longtime club member and volunteer, at a stocking site on Muncy Creek in Hughesville last Friday.
Each June, the club receives the trout as "fingerlings," or juvenile fish that have developed fins and scales, from Oswayo State Fish Hatchery in Coudersport, Potter County.
With grants from the commission and other supporters, the club manages the raising of the fish at two nurseries, both of which are named after former club members: Bob King Nursery in Picture Rocks and Glen Faus Nursery in Hughesville, the latter having been a cooperative nursery of the commission since 1961.
The trout are raised throughout the summer, fall and winter, before they're mature enough to stock in the early spring, Yorks said.
"When we get them, they're about 3 inches long," he said.
When the club stocks them, the fish are about 12 inches long, he said, and "they'll keep growing."
Volunteers step in to help when the commission's large trucks can't reach streams and creeks that are surrounded by dense woods or have narrow access roads, Yorks said.
The trout are loaded into the commission's trucks at the nurseries and driven to various stocking sites, where they are met by volunteers from the club with large-capacity tanks waiting in the beds of their pickup trucks.
The fish are transferred into the smaller containers and then taken to more than two dozen smaller streams and creeks throughout Lycoming and Sullivan counties, all of which are part of the watershed.
Yorks said it usually takes three or four trucks making two runs each before an area is stocked; last week, the club was working on stocking six areas of Muncy Creek, with three pickups making two runs each.
Despite the chill in the air, it was a well-attended and festive event, with volunteers, club members and die-hard anglers - eager to learn where their best chances of landing trout this season might be - watching the stocking and following the volunteers to the smaller areas.
The commission stocks brook, golden, brown and rainbow trout from mid-March to the end of May - if the weather permits, of course.
"I help every year but this year," said club member Mike Kilcoyne. The area of the watershed that he volunteers to stock - a tributary on Shelinski's Tree Farm in Picture Rocks - still was iced-in last week.