Drained of trout in 2009, this historic river is once again producing quality trout fishing.
The demise of Connetquot State Park Preserve’s world class trout fishery has been well documented in these pages since the New York Department of Environmental Conservation’s Freshwater Fisheries Division orchestrated the cleaning out of an estimated 80,000 trout from the park’s waters due to IPN disease back in 2009. To make a long story short, the decision to “cleanse” the river was strongly opposed by many anglers, local legislators, people in fisheries management, some fly fishing organizations and the Friends of Connetquot State Park Preserve. IPN is prevalent in many trout waters throughout the U.S. and Europe and not considered a threat in most states. It is harmless to humans and adult trout, and may have been present in the Connetquot for 50 years or more with no ramifications to the fishery. The state’s policy for reacting to IPN was developed to protect the Great Lakes fishery and really had no bearing on the Connetquot. Suffice to say it was a poor decision that cost the parks department thousands upon thousands of dollars in revenue during a period when budgets were being cut. Even worse was the cost for consultants to cleanse the river and hatchery from IPN, the cost for drilling and installing a new well system to supply the hatchery with a “clean” water source, and the money spent on purchasing trout to rebuild the fishery.
Despite all the negativity surrounding the river’s demise, there is much to be positive about these days as the hatchery is once again raising trout, and the river is producing quality trout fishing on a daily basis. It may not be quite what it was, but it is certainly on its way. As of this writing, the upper sections of the river above the hatchery are not being stocked, and the best fishing has been limited to a handful of beats according to some of the anglers who have been fishing the park’s waters regularly through the winter. But you are once again seeing decent numbers of trout stationed in the runs from beats 9 through 16. Several friends have told of catching as many as 20 or more of what would be considered quality trout anywhere, during a single session.
During a recent visit to the park, I ran into Mark Malenovsky of Hooks & Brooks Guide Service (631-589-0065) who was into his third hour of an afternoon session. He had already landed over 20 rainbows and browns up to 25 inches, with quite a few of the fish in the two to three-pound range. He felt the fishing was “pretty close” to what it had been, minus some of the bruiser browns and rainbows that occasionally eclipsed the 10-pound mark, and the not uncommon five-plus pounders.
The road back was a long and tedious one and involved the efforts of many dedicated people. State parks took the lead and deserves much of the credit for helping to restore the hatchery and the fishery. They understood it would take good numbers of quality fish to draw anglers back to the park and also had the foresight to hire cold water fisheries specialist, Norman Soule, formerly of the Cold Spring Harbor Trout Hatchery. Norman oversees the hatchery operation and has played an integral role in the raising of a new generation of Connetquot River trout. The first batch of fish raised from eggs in the hatchery will be released into the river this spring. They are currently being nurtured in the hatchery’s holding ponds until they reach approximately 12 inches in size before being released.
And then there are those from the public sector who despite the bitter taste left from 2009, remained dedicated to restoring the river and hatchery to its former glory. The folks from Friends of Connetquot River State Park Preserve and clubs like the Idle Hour Flyfishers have played a critical role in the park’s revival. There are too many individuals who deserve credit for their efforts but at the risk of omitting other deserving members, I’ll refrain from mentioning any names – you know who you are.
If you have never visited the park, it is an unlikely oasis in the middle of suburbia. There is a sense of peace and solitude that if not for the occasional jet on its approach to, or takeoff from MacArthur Airport, might convince you that you were far from Long Island’s hustle and bustle. In addition to the fishing, the historic hatchery is worth a visit in itself, along with the park’s 18th century grist mill. Fishing in the park is restricted to fly fishing only with barbless hooks. It is currently a catch and release fishery, with the possibility of a one or two fish limit down the road. During the winter, fishing is limited to two sessions, 8 a.m. to noon and noon to 4 p.m. As the daylight hours increase, a third session from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. will be in effect. The cost per session is $20 and a NY State Freshwater License is required. Reservations can be made by calling 631-581-1005. Beats are assigned based on your arrival time at the park.