Waterways Conservation Officer John Cummings had his hands full when he stocked trout at Moon Lake on Thursday.
Cummings had no problem handling the pipe used to pump trout into the lake or the nets full of fish that were handed down from the truck.
What kept Cummings busy was Braydon Root, a five-year-old from Trucksville who was experiencing his first trout stocking. Root eagerly picked up trout that jumped out of the net and tossed them into the lake. He helped Cummings stand on the pipe to hold it down as fish were pumped through. He also didn’t hesitate to take Cummings up on his invitation to peer inside a net straining under the weight of dozens of plump trout.
While Root’s enthusiasm was typical of a five-year-old, it also made Cummings’ day.
“It’s all about the kids,” Cummings said. “Just seeing him involved and excited about this is awesome.”
Over the last few weeks the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has given anglers plenty to be excited about as they stock area waterways for the April 13 opener of trout season. Cummings, whose district includes parts of Luzerne and Columbia counties, said he stocked trout every day last week. While the weeks before trout season signal one of the busiest times of year for a WCO, it is also one of the most enjoyable parts of the job.
“It’s like a reunion,” Cummings said. “I get to see a lot of anglers and I’m approachable because we’re side-by-side stocking trout. It’s a social thing.”
WCO Aaron Lupacchini, who also covers Luzerne County, agreed. Like all WCO’s, Lupacchini’s days and nights are spent stocking trout and patroling waterways, but he doesn’t mind the long hours.
“I get to see the same familiar faces that I see every time at this year,” he said. “It’s just like the opening day of trout where you have the same guys fishing the same holes year after year. They develop a bond, and this is no different.”
Judging by early reports, anglers who visit their traditional opening day hotspots should be greeted with excellent water conditions. As of last week, Cummings and Lupacchini both reported that the stocked streams in their districts were in excellent shape.
About the only negative was the colder weather has caused lakes to take a bit longer to warm up, but that should change this week as temperatures are expected to reach into the 60s, just in time for the Saturday opener.
“Right now in most of the waterways in my district the water temperature is between 38 and 42 degrees. Trout bite best in 46 to 56 degrees,” Cummings said.
While stocking trout may be the fun side of the job for Cummings and Lupacchini, they also have to stay on the lookout for those attempting to get a headstart as poachers try to get a jump on opening day.
As he finished up stocking Moon Lake, several anglers told Cummings of potential poaching along Harveys Creek - an area that he watches at all hours of the day and night.
Lupacchini said he hasn’t had many problems in his district yet because cold temperatures tend to keep poachers away. But as things warm up, he’ll increase his patrols to make sure the trout that have been stocked are there for anglers on Saturday.
“The best defense is if they don’t know when I’ll be back to a waterway. It could be anytime,” Lupacchini said. “In the old days people would do it just out of greed. But anymore I think they get cabin fever and think they can go out there and not get caught.”
One of the things that drives WCO’s to protect stocked waterways from poaching is it means there will be plenty of fish for young anglers like Braydon to catch on opening day.
“I got a red fishing pole for Easter and I’m excited to use it,” he said. “There was a really big fish in one of the nets, and I hope I can catch it with worms.”
Such excitement will run rampant on every stocked stream and lake this Saturday.