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Wild Trout Stream Regulation Assessment

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Print version (pdf, 85kb)

The Bureau of Freshwater Fisheries has documented reproducing trout populations in nearly 200 streams (or stream segments) statewide. However, as of 2016 only a small number (36) of these are designated and regulated as Wild Trout Streams (WTS). The majority of these waters are tributaries to larger, trout-stocked streams, but the WTS waters are not stocked with hatchery trout. These water instead rely upon their wild, naturally reproducing trout populations to provide a recreational fishery.

The WTS regulation is more stringent than the statewide general trout regulation and has changed little since it was adopted in 1990. Over time several streams have been added or taken off the WTS list. More notably, in 2008 when the general statewide minimum harvestable size for trout was increased from 178 to 305 mm (7 to 9 in) this change was also made to the WTS regulation.

Currently the regulation provides for a limited harvest of only two trout daily, from the Opening Day of the trout season in April through September 15. The minimum size limit on trout is 229 mm (9 in), except for 3 streams (Van Campens Brook, Pequannock River, and Wanaque River) that produce large Brown Trout where the Brown Trout harvested must be at least 305 mm (12 in). Fishing gear restrictions also apply (artificials only, no bait or bait scent allowed).

Willoghby Brook - A Wild Trout Stream
Willoughby Brook (Hunterdon), regulated as a Wild Trout Stream
Click to enlarge

Many of the streams currently designated as WTS are relatively small, contain limited numbers of (or no) harvestable-sized wild trout, and have limited (or no) public access. In 2014 a multi-year assessment was initiated to review the WTS regulation, collect and analyze data, and develop regulations that will better address recreational fishing opportunities for, and conservation needs of, the state's wild trout fisheries. This effort is being guided by a team of Bureau biologists. Fish population data were collected from streams using established sampling protocols (150 m stretch electrofished in July and August). In 2014, 46 electrofishing surveys were conducted on the 36 designated WTS's.

Biologist with wild brown trout
Biologist Ross Shramko with Van Campens Brook wild Brown Trout
Click to enlarge

In 2015 this assessment continued with an additional 48 electrofishing surveys conducted on 39 streams. Of these, 23 surveys were conducted on 18 current WTS to collect additional data for regulation development and/or as part of a stream temperature monitoring study of Trout Production streams. The remaining 25 surveys were conducted on 21 Trout Production streams not currently regulated as WTS. Most of these were selected for survey because previous fish data suggested they may be good candidates for wild trout fishing regulations.

Collectively these 48 surveys produced 3,093 trout for an average of 64 trout per survey. Although most of the trout captured were wild fish, some trout were stocked fish (i.e. hatchery origin). The catch breakdown by trout species was 46% Brown Trout, 50% Brook Trout, and 4% Rainbow Trout. Brook Trout were found in 30 surveys, Brown Trout in 23 surveys, and Rainbow Trout in 14 surveys. No trout were found in two surveys, Stony Brook (Stokes State Forest) and a tributary to the Rockaway River).

In addition to the survey results described above, other surveys conducted under different studies in 2015 on the Lamington (Black) River, Raritan River S/B, and Pohatcong Creek that documented wild trout also provide useful data for regulation development.

The data collected in 2014 and 2015, as well as data previously collected from streams having naturally reproducing trout populations, will be analyzed in 2016 to evaluate the current Wild Trout Stream regulation and determine if changes are warranted.


2015 Wild Trout Stream Survey Results (pdf, 145kb)

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Last Updated: August 8, 2016