JEFFERSON – Knee Deep Club members, volunteers and fish gawkers were on hand Saturday afternoon for the annual trout stocking at Lake Hopatcong.
A record number of trout from the Musky Trout Hatchery in Asbury, NJ, all between 12 and 21 inches, were delivered to the staging area at Dow’s Boat Rental and then floated into the lake at various locations using five volunteer boats.
The Knee Deep Club has been purchasing trout from Musky for more than 25 years said Stan Mikulka, stocking chairman. The club floated more than 3,000 fish Saturday, including a 26-inch rainbow trout and 250 other trophy-sized fish, spending just over $11,000.
There was some concern from club members and other fishermen the lake would not have enough trout this year after NJ State Fish and Wildlife reduced the number of trout they stock in the lake by almost seventy-five percent, said club trustee Tim Clancy, who estimates the loss at 3,500 pounds of fish.
The trout-stocking event, originally scheduled for late March, was postponed because the lake was still thick with ice. The extra month at the hatchery, said Knee Deep president Ed Mackin, turned out to be a good thing.
“They got fatter because they held ‘em an extra month,” he said. “We stocked some big fish.”
According to Mackin, three trophy-sized trout were tagged and floated, each with a $50 bounty if caught. Kenny Wickert, 51, a life-long lake lover who passed away suddenly last year was honored with a brown trout. Mackin said his family raised $800 in his memory, which was used to purchase multiple fish including the trophy fish.
The family of Gene Belote, a long-time Knee Deep Club member, was on hand to float a trophy-size rainbow trout in his favorite fishing spot in Byram Cove.
The club also tagged a brown trout for a KDC member who had major surgery over the winter. The club, said Mackin, was going to send flowers during his recovery but the member asked that in lieu of flowers the club purchase a trout for the lake.
Another stocking will take place Saturday, May 3 at 3pm, also at Dow’s. An additional 1,776 trout, including 87 trophy-sized, will be floated into the lake, thanks in part to $5,750 raised by club members and a $5,000 grant from the Lake Hopatcong Foundation.
“Thanks to this partnering effort with the Foundation the Knee Deep Club was able to increase the stocking by two and a half times than originally planned,” said Clancy.