Believe it or not, spring is just around the corner.
The cold weather will come to an end and the gentle warmth of the sun will soon tickle a fresh set of leaves out of the trees. As we dodged what could have been yet another nasty winter storm this week, the only thing keeping many locals from pounding a "For Sale" sign into their front yard and moving south is the promise that better weather is on its way.
Nothing says the robins will be singing and the flowers will soon be blooming like a big, white truck filled with trout and a caravan of eager anglers following closely behind. It's a sight that guarantees that spring is almost here and trout season is only weeks away.
Each year, the folks at the Fish and Boat Commission, along with a slew of cooperative nurseries and countless volunteers, release nearly 4 million trout in the state's lakes and streams. They load the waterways with thousands of rainbow, brook and brown trout so you and I have the opportunity to latch into a handful of them as the days get longer and the region emerges from its winter doldrums.
Most anglers line the area's creeks on the opening day of trout season blissfully unaware of the work and dedication it took to put so many trout under their feet — from the biologists at the hatchery to the volunteers hauling buckets along the banks of muddy streams.
For instance, the typical seven-inch trout, the legal size limit, is about 14 months old. That means the work the Commission and its volunteers put into getting this year's fish ready to toss into streams started in 2012.
As the fish emerged from their eggs and evolved through various life cycles, the Commission — with its 15 hatcheries — had the unending task of moving them from tank to tank, managing their water and waste, plus feeding them up to seven times a day. If you've never been to one of the Commission's hatcheries, take time this spring to do it. It's a fascinating glimpse into the life of a trout.
Getting 4 million trout from over a dozen hatcheries into hundreds of trout streams throughout the state is a daunting task. The job is possible thanks to a fleet of stocking trucks that act as mobile aquariums. These unique vehicles carry a 1,200-gallon tank with an aeration system capable of holding as many as 6,000 trout.
The fish are loaded into the stocking trucks at the hatcheries and taken to local streams, where they meet up with volunteers eager to give the trout a new home. It takes hard work and lots of trips with five-gallon buckets to get the fish spread throughout local waterways, but the reward is worth the effort.
This season's stocking efforts officially kicked off earlier this week. As the fish settle into their new homes, it marks the end of the trout's long, nurturing relationship with the Commission and the beginning of a battle against tens of thousands of anglers.
Springtime stocking is an annual ritual that signifies the end of winter and the unofficial start of fishing season. It's a much better predictor of the season to come than some overfed groundhog that saw his shadow and cursed us to six more weeks of winter.
If you're interested in helping stock local streams, log onto the Fish and Boat Commission's website to view the latest schedule.
Andy Snyder writes about the outdoors for The York Dispatch. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.