With today being the opening of trout season in the 18-county Southeast Region of Pennsylvania, area anglers have an opportunity to recapture the excitement again next Saturday with the opening of this year's extended and expanded Tamaqua Area Chamber of Commerce Trout Tournament.

This year the tournament is April 6-30, but to be eligible for one of the many prizes, both adult and youth anglers must register by 9 a.m. the opening day of the tournament. Registering for the event may be done at both Tom's Auto and Marine, 250 South Greenwood Street or at the chamber office, 114 West Broad Street.

Prior to next Saturday's opening day of the tournament, members of Schuylkill County Chapter of Trout Unlimited will be supplementing Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stockings by stocking tagged trout in the three-mile stretch of the Little Schuylkill River from Locust Creek to the bridge on Cedar Street near Boyer's Food Market. When anglers catch a tagged fish, they are to present the tag and proof of registration at Tom's by April 30 to claim the prize for each fish with the grand prize a vacation trip to Caiger's Resort along the St. Lawrence River in the 1000 Islands Region.

In addition to supporting the various projects of the Chamber, tournament chairman Tom Banditelli said that the partnership formed with Schuylkill County Chapter of Trout Unlimited gives anglers the opportunity to improve the quality of fishing in county waters. When registering for the tournament, anglers will also have the option of participating in the "Stocking Button Project" being sponsored by Friends of SCTU to purchase trout that will be stocked throughout the county – and anglers wearing their button the opening day of the tournament will receive free doughnuts, coffee or hot chocolate.

Schuylkill TU began its "Stocking Button Project" earlier this year when the PFBC announced plans to close its Bellefonte and Oswayo hatcheries at the end of 2014. Since then, the agency has announced it will be able to keep both hatcheries open at least until July 2015, but the SCTU project will continue to supplement stockings and those purchasing a button will be notified in advance by email as to the day and location.

According to the PFBC, it will continue to pursue a long-term funding source through the General Assembly while keeping the two hatcheries open. Since the initial vote by the board of commissioners earlier this year to close the hatcheries, agency staff and commissioners met with members of the General Assembly to identify opportunities to secure long-term funding sources.

After this meeting, a special session of the PFBC commissioners was held, and commissioner Glade Squires introduced the motion to restore funding for the continued operation of the Oswayo and Bellefonte trout hatcheries until the July 2015. His motion passed unanimously and the agency will continue to work with senators and representatives to secure funding for the other areas of its budget previously identified to be reduced or eliminated.

Closing the Oswayo and Bellefonte hatcheries by the end of 2014 would have saved approximately $2 million annually and was part of a budget plan to save $9 million annually over the next four years. Approximately $6.7 million is needed in order to meet escalating health-care and retirement obligations for employees, and $2.3 million is needed for infrastructure needs, such as maintenance and repairs, at remaining hatcheries, other facilities and boating access areas.

While keeping the hatcheries open is good news, "Stocking Button Program" chairman and custom-rod builder Randy Emerich of BigDady Rods said there has been early positive response and it will continue. Information on individual and corporate sponsorships is available by calling him at 570-622-1252 or by email at bigdadyrods@comcast.net [1].