Lynn Burkhead — Anglers are thankful for approaching trout season

Herald Democrat

As most of us are painfully aware, there aren’t many things in life that the COVID-19 pandemic has left unaffected since the coronavirus outbreak started rolling across the state in mid-March.

From family gatherings to sports to church, school, and business, just about everyone has been forced to adjust to the new normal as we’ve all learned to wear a mask in public, stay 6-feet apart, an do what we can to help keep the outbreak from being worse than it is.

But thankfully, as the Thanksgiving Day holiday approaches next week, there’s at least one thing that is ready to roll on as normal in this never ending year of change. And that’s the chance to go outdoors and wet a fishing line somewhere across the vast state of Texas.

One of the best opportunities to do just that is only days away now after the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department announced 2020-21 stocking dates for the Lone Star State’s annual rainbow trout stocking program. Between Nov. 25 and early spring next year, TPWD says that a total of 332,188 catchable rainbow trout will be stocked in dozens of water bodies scattered across the state.

That includes three here in Grayson County, with one of those being in Sherman, another in Pottsboro, and a final one in Denison. All told, a total of 8,100 rainbow trout will be stocked locally this year as the TPWD hatchery trucks come calling.

As long as inclement weather (think icy roads) or virus related schedule changes don’t take place, Pottsboro Lake will receive the first local stocking when 800 rainbows are planted in its waters on Dec. 15.

Next up is the familiar Waterloo Lake Park Pond in Denison, the longest running regular trout stocking site in Grayson County, a spot where TPWD has stocked rainbows for many years. This season, a total of 6,085 trout will be stocked in four different stockings, the first on Dec. 17, the second on Jan. 10, and the final two on Feb. 7 and Feb. 28 respectively.

Finally, Sherman gets its trout fishing opportunity when TPWD plants 1,215 rainbows in Pebblebrook Community Park Pond on Feb. 28.

While TPWD does remind anglers that the pandemic continues and they should follow health protocols including proper social distancing measures, the program otherwise remains unchanged as anglers await their opportunity to catch the colorful and tasty fish.

“TPWD stocks catchable sized fish during winter months to create angling opportunities throughout Texas,” said Carl Kittel, TPWD’s rainbow trout program director, in a news release. “Rainbow trout love cold water, can be caught on a variety of baits and lures (worms, Power Bait, corn, spinners, spoons, flies and more), and are great to take home and eat. Our winter rainbow trout program has been a favorite with anglers for over forty years.”

Why all of the fuss about a small hatchery fish coming to a pond, stream, or lake near you? Well, as many local anglers know, rainbow trout are uncommon in Texas since the species is native to cold waters in North America, generally in and west of the Rockies and on up towards Canada and Alaska.

In fact, TPWD reports that the only self-sustaining population of trout in the Lone Star State is out in McKittrick Canyon in the Guadalupe Mountain range. Otherwise, only a few stocked trout will occasionally holdover each year down near New Braunfels as chilly tailrace waters flow into the Guadalupe River below Canyon Lake.

Other than that, a Texas angler’s only trout catching opportunity is the annual stocking program…or lengthy travel. In terms of the latter, be prepared to gas your vehicle up and drive many miles since the nearest year round options for a trout angler are found in several trout streams across northern Arkansas, the Illinois and Lower Mountain Fork Rivers in Oklahoma, and of course, in the endless variety of trout waters across New Mexico and Colorado.

How can you participate when the program begins here in local waters? First, you’ll need a valid Texas fishing license with a freshwater fishing endorsement. As a reminder, a license is required of all anglers unless you are under 17 years of age or fishing within a Texas State Park.

Next, you’ll need some sort of a rod-and-reel, ranging from an ultralight spinning outfit to a Zebco rod-and-reel to a fly rod to even a cane pole. One reminder about rods-and-reels is that Waterloo Lake Park Pond is a Community Fishing Lake (CFL) and as such, TPWD restricts anglers at such places to using no more than two fishing poles at one time.

After you’ve chosen a rod-and-reel to fish with, the stocked rainbows can be caught on a variety of natural baits, small lures and flies. The hungry stocker fish generally aren’t too picky, meaning that anything from a salmon egg to a kernel of corn to an earthworm to a chartreuse Power Bait nugget to a Hare’s Ear Nymph or Wooly Bugger fly ought to work.

Perhaps the best advice for those wishing to catch trout this winter is to fish within a few hours to a few days of the hatchery truck showing up at a particular water body. The program is quite popular, and these are hungry and gullible hatchery fish headed for the dinner table, meaning that the early bird truly gets the proverbial worm when it comes to Texas’ annual wintertime trout fishing program.

Since rainbows can’t survive past the cold water temperatures found during the winter months, when you do catch some trout this season, TPWD encourages anglers to responsibly keep their daily bag limit of five trout in the put-and-take fishing program (Editor’s Note: If you are fishing in the Guadalupe River tailrace waters, special limits do apply there so check TPWD regulations).

If you plan on keeping fish for the table, be sure to bring a cooler along to keep the fish fresh and on ice, dressing them quickly when you get home. Then you’re a simple recipe away from enjoying a tasty meal normally reserved for a mountain campfire or a fine dining establishment.

As you enjoy the state’s trout fishing opportunity this winter, both on the water and at the dinner table, you can rest easy in the fact that even in a year of upheaval and change, some things remain as they always have been.

And that includes heading outdoors to enjoy a fishing trip across the big and beautiful state of Texas. Because here in the Lone Star State, our hunting and fishing traditions are so strong that even the coronavirus has trouble derailing the Great Outdoors.