Meadville Tribune

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April 1, 2013

Taking stock of upcoming trout season

MEADVILLE — Spring snow flurries may have dampened spirits, but not even the bitter cold could stop outdoors enthusiasts doing what they love every March: trout stocking.

While the fun of hauling buckets of wriggling fish and throwing them in local creeks might be murky to some, the laughing smiles and camaraderie displayed in preparation for April’s trout season are crystal clear.

“I love doing this like it’s my job,” said Saegertown teen William Lilly, who has been stocking trout just about every year since he could walk. “It’s been a family tradition for us.”

He refers to his father, avid hunter and fisherman Gary Lilly, also a trout-stocker since his early years.

“It’s lots of fun,” Gary Lilly said. “We like to be outdoors. Even if I couldn’t make it some years, I’d have someone bring my son.”

Each year, Waterways Conservation Officer Terry Crecraft of the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission leads the “bucket brigade,” a variable-sized troop of volunteers who help stock the streams of Crawford County with the yank and clank of five-gallon buckets.

The brigade is marked by a caravan of cars and pickups following the large, white stocking truck, carrying the latest stock from the Corry hatchery: hundreds of rainbow and brown trout, with the occasional golden-hued albino trout for novelty, Crecraft said.

“Stocking’s going fine so far,” he said, having recently completed his sixth trip, Woodcock Creek, since the beginning of March. “We stock early so the fish can spread out naturally and get acclimated to the creeks.”

Woodcock Creek’s usual turnout of 50 to 70 volunteers was muddied down to about 30 by a cold front, but the stocking didn’t suffer a bit, Crecraft said.

“The people who do come out just carry more buckets,” he said. “Plus, I have a good bunch of core guys I can count on.”

Mostly retirees, all outdoorsmen, these stocking veterans have been at it so long that they could recite the safety briefing by heart. They can often be found right beside the truck, handing out buckets of freshly-netted fish from the stocking truck’s water compartments.

“We’re a well-oiled stocking group,” John (Jack) Hurban said. “Everyone from the truck to the trout knows what they need to do.”

Hurban has seen his share of fortunes and mishaps, with about two decades of experience under his belt. His ATV is even outfitted with several buckets made specifically for stocking season.

“This has been a real easy year,” he said. “We’ve had years with 4- or 5-foot snow drifts and we couldn’t get the four-wheeler into the woods. Then we had to double up on some places and there’s not as good a spread.”

A good spread is paramount to local fishing enthusiasts, most of whom expect their favorite fishing spots to be well-stocked for the first day of trout season, which is April 13.

“Then the fun part is trying to catch them,” said Ronald Gorley, an avid fisherman with at least 10 years of experience volunteering in the bucket brigade. “I enjoy the fishing, the companionship and the excitement.”

And what could be more exciting than hauling between 500 and 2,000 trout per creek? Probably doing it for more than 60 years.

Honored in the January/February issue of Pennsylvania Angler and Boater magazine, local fisherman Tom Rockwell has been stocking since 1950.

“It’s nothing to brag about; it just means you’re getting old,” he laughed. “I’d rather be 21 and starting out again.”

Rockwell and other veteran stockers expressed their joy seeing the annual tradition continue with today’s youth, this year bundled up in a mix of gloves, hats, scarves and bulky winter coats as they tagged along with their parents.

“The kids make the whole thing,” Gorley said. “They really enjoy seeing the fish.”

The younger volunteers were lifted onto the truck for an up-close look of the floundering trout. Some even got a bit of a splash, which only widened their smiles.

“If they want trout fishing to continue, they’ve got to come out and make it happen,” said Hurban, speaking out to the adult volunteers as well as their children.

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