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Tuesday, March 22, 2005
For the Star-Ledger
It's nice that Santa's sleigh comes to everybody's rooftop once a year. Kids, and credit-card companies, might prefer it showed up not only Christmas Eve but also for seven weeks afterward.

The trout angler's versions of St. Nick's vehicle -- the state Division of Fish and Wildlife's trout stocking trucks -- give that extra-special treatment to only a select batch of waterbodies in New Jersey each spring. Of the 198 lakes, ponds, streams and rivers paid visits by the truck and its slippery cargo between now and May 27, only 25 will be lucky enough to host the vehicle eight times.

Their names are well-known to anglers throughout the state. They include the Big Flatbrook, the Manasquan River, the Musconetcong River, the Paulinskill River, the Pequest River, the Ramapo River, the Raritan River, Tom's River and the Wallkill River.

They'll get trout before April 9, the long-awaited opening day of trout season, and they'll get their supplies restored on each of the seven following weeks.

Heading out from the Pequest Trout Hatchery in Warren County (Fish and Wildlife's version of the North Pole), the stocking trucks are bringing preseason allocations of brook, brown and rainbow trout to these heavily fished waters and to all but four of the 173 other fishing spots deemed worthy of a dose of salmonids.

At the other end of the spectrum are the less fortunate waterbodies that will see the stocking truck but once in the coming weeks. There are eight of them, all lakes or ponds that are better for warmwater fishing and are unlikely to be on the tips of most trout lovers' tongues.

For example, there's 11-acre Haddon Lake in Camden County, which was dredged and rehabilitated about five years ago. It will be blessed with 480 trout before trout season opens on April 9.

Lake Papaianni in Edison, named after a policeman who was killed by a bank robber in 1971, will soon find itself with 420 trout born and bred for opening day taking.

Scarlet Oak Pond, in the Ramapo Valley Reservation, will be home to 380 of the short-lived visitors. That's 20 fewer than Somerset County's Spooky Brook Park Pond will receive, but a whopping 230 more than the truck will bring to Mac's Pond in Monmouth County.

Most of New Jersey's waters fall between the two extremes. They'll get some trout before opening day and be refurbished -- some more frequently than others -- during the first four weeks of the stocking season.

By opening day, Fish and Wildlife plans to scatter 172,920 trout in 195 locations. Only White Lake and Merrill Creek Reservoir in Warren County and Round Valley Reservoir in Hunterdon County will be shunned by the stocking sleigh before the big day, with their allocations slated for delivery later in spring.

When the trucks are finally parked for another year, after making 908 visits, they'll have spread 575,240 hungry trout into the state's waters and -- it's hoped -- into the creels of its anglers.

Fred J. Aun covers the outdoors for The Star-Ledger. He can be reached at [email protected]
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