Bill Dempski pours a bucket of brown and rainbow trout into Wapwallopen Creek on Monday.S. John Wilkin photos/the times leader
Trout thrash around in a bucket as they wait to be stocked into Wapwallopen Creek.
WRIGHT TWP. – Bill Dempski lugged the heavy plastic bucket along a narrow path toward Wapwallopen Creek. He gingerly stepped over a log and eased his way down a steep bank, making sure not to bang the bucket against the rocks.
There was precious cargo inside, and Dempski was determined to get it there safely.
Arriving at the creek, Dempski popped the lid off the bucket and poured about 25 rainbow and brown trout into the water.
The mission was to stock Wapwallopen Creek for the April 12 opening day of trout season. Because the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission will stock thousands of trout in 16 Luzerne County waterways before opening day, they rely on the help of ordinary citizens like Dempski to get the job done.
“We definitely count on the help. If we don’t have it, we might have to bypass certain stops,” said Luzerne County Waterways Conservation Officer Gregory Kraynak.
After Dempski emptied his bucket into the creek, he stood for a moment and watched the trout disperse in the current. Downstream, other volunteers dumped their buckets into the deep pools.
“I like to see what kind of fish are going in and help spread them out a bit,” he said.
Kraynak’s district includes five lakes and four streams that are listed as approved trout waters in the northern half of the county. He will spend the next few weeks stocking trout and patrolling to ensure that poachers don’t get an illegal head start on the season. Kraynak and his deputies try to deter illegal acts by working long shifts and making unexpected checks at areas already stocked.
“Between stocking and patrolling, it’s a very busy time,” he said.
That’s why Kraynak relies on anglers such as Dempski to help out with the preseason stockings. On Monday, the stocking truck made seven stops along a 15-mile stretch of Wapwallopen Creek – from Wright Township to Hobbie. At each stop eight or more buckets of trout were stocked.
Dempski said he is glad to help out and tries to make as many stockings as he can. He will spend opening day on the Lehigh River, but didn’t mind helping to stock Wapwallopen because it’s close to his home in Mountain Top.
“They can’t do it by themselves, plus it gives me a chance to see what kind of fish are going in,” Dempski said.
In 2007 the agency revamped its trout production, scaling back on the total number produced in its hatcheries opting for longer and heavier fish. In 2006, the agency produced 4.2 million between 9 and 10 inches in length totaling 2 million pounds. Starting last year, 3.4 million trout are produced annually, averaging 11 inches in length with a total weight of 2 million pounds.
So far the change seems to be working as Dempski came away impressed with what he saw on Monday.
“I just dumped a nice one in,” he said, estimating the length with his hands. “Even the lesser fish are nice.
“Overall the fish are better than usual. I’m pleased with it.”
Kraynak said he had five trout in his buckets that were 18 inches or bigger.
In addition to coordinating stockings, officers such as Kraynak check stream conditions and water temperatures before the fish go in. The water temperature at Wapwallopen Creek on Monday was 46 degrees, nearly perfect for trout, Kraynak said.
The temperature will warm in the coming weeks, but as long as it stays around 50 degrees Kraynak said the fish will be fine.
And if that’s the case on April 12, anglers in Luzerne County should have plenty of success.
“Luzerne County has a lot of prospects when it comes to trout fishing,” Kraynak said. “There’s a body of water that offers trout fishing just a short drive from almost anywhere in the county. That helps keep anglers out there even with the high gas prices.”