Monday, January 12, 2015

Seefer Madness

Up until a few weeks ago, “seeforellen” was a rather unfamiliar term in Connecticut, spoken only within pockets of ardent trout anglers and inland fisheries staff. Now, after a series of recent trout stockings and a little public relations, it has become a household name overnight, one that even carries a bit of controversy along with it. 

In the month of December, CT DEEP stocked over 400 surplus broodstock seeforellen brown trout in eight lakes throughout the Nutmeg State. These five-year-old fish were born and raised in Kensington Hatchery and averaged 15-pounds, with some well over the mind-boggling 20-pound mark. This created an unprecedented and incredible opportunity for Connecticut anglers, but it also sparked much debate due to the fact that several brown trout surpassing the current state record were released.

Reared in our hatchery system since 1992, seeforellens have a storied history in Connecticut. In a recent radio interview, Tim Barry, the supervising cold water fisheries biologist for CT DEEP, shed a little light on why these fish are so unique. “We are the only state in New England to have this strain of brown trout,” Barry said. “It’s originally a lake-dwelling strain that comes from Germany, and it’s known to be a late-maturing fish and because of that fact they tend to grow very large and live quite a long time, usually longer and bigger than most other strains of brown trout. We use them in a variety of different applications, but primarily in our lakes to try and promote holdover brown trout and bigger brown trout.”

One of the over 400 recently stocked broodstock seeforellen (photo courtesy of CT DEEP)

Since the early 90’s, countless seeforellens have been stocked in Connecticut waters in all different sizes from fry to adults, but releasing broodstock this large is not common protocol. According to a CT DEEP FAQ, “normally, these fish would be stocked at age two or age three, however, due to an issue with a disease several years ago, the hatchery staff needed to retain a large number of the disease–free fish to restart the strain. Now several years later they are much larger than we need or can handle. At this size, they are too large to be kept at the hatchery and are past their prime (their productivity is decreasing). In order to make room for the younger, more productive broodstock, we decided to make the most of these fish by giving a once in a lifetime opportunity to our angling community.”

Before I go any further, let me be clear in stating that I commend CT DEEP for providing us with yet another unique and entertaining angling opportunity. I’d be lying if I said it wouldn’t be a blast hooking into one of these things, especially on a jigging rod through the ice. And if a youngster connects with a 15-pound anything, let alone a beautiful brown trout, forget about it, they will be hooked for life. However, hindsight is 20/20 and I think a few things could have been done differently in this whole process.

First, I believe the real-time promotion of the stockings via social media was a mistake. This allowed anglers to be at the precise stocking sites literally within minutes after the seeforellens were released. I get it; these fish were meant to be caught—it’s great publicity, especially in a day and age with Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. But with trout still milling around at the boat launches, there were cases of anglers throwing rocks to break ice to get at them and, much worse, there were multiple reports of unsportsmanlike snagging. Holding back on sharing the stocking locations by a few weeks could have allowed the trout to acclimate to their new surroundings a little. And though time consuming, stocking by boat several hundred feet from the launch would have given the seeforellens more of a fighting chance.

Another example of a recently stocked seeforellen (photo courtesy of CT DEEP)

It didn't come as much of a surprise when a photo recently popped up on Facebook of an angler hoisting a 19-pound seef just a matter of days after the initial stockings. It's most likely the first of a handful of "pending state record" brown trout we'll hear about in the coming months. While not everyone cares about angling records, for those that do, therein lies the hot button issue with all of this. In June 2011, Tony Urbanowicz broke a 31-year-old Connecticut brown trout record with an 18-pound five-ounce behemoth from the Saugatuck Reservoir. Yes, it too was a hatchery fish, most Connecticut trout are, but his seeforellen was stocked when it was six to nine-inches and survived years in the wild before eventually reaching its massive 32.5-inch length and 21-inch girth.

Maybe I was na├»ve in thinking Tony’s record brown trout was going to stand for a long time, especially since the previous record of 16-pounds 14-ounces from East Twin Lake lasted for over three decades. With the exception of a few deep lakes, Connecticut currently doesn’t boast many places that could produce a holdover trout of that caliber. And most of the bodies of water that can have certain restrictions (read: no boat fishing, no ice fishing or both) that make the feat even harder to accomplish.

Tony Urbaowicz with the current state record brown trout caught in 2011 (photo courtesy of Fisherman's World)

Regardless of what happens, I’m in the camp that’s not too keen on seeing a new state record that was stocked at record size. Perhaps any seeforellens stocked larger than the current state record should have been marked in a certain way, like with an elastomer tag or a tail clip, to denote as much. Maybe there could be a separate category for them in the records section of the Angler’s Guide or maybe there should be a steroid-era asterisk next to the new record like plenty of anglers have joked about.

However things shake out, the amount of buzz that has been created surrounding these giant trout is admirable. I believe the surplus broodstock seeforellen have provided a very cool recreational fishing opportunity, particularly for the next generation of Connecticut anglers. And while I may disagree with the stocking of state record-sized fish, the bottom line is that CT DEEP deserves to be applauded for the incredible overall job they do managing our freshwater fisheries, especially considering their limited staff and resources—the seeforellen program is another fine example of that.