Pennsylvania's 2009 Bass Forecast

Pennsylvania's 2009 Bass Forecast

Here's a look at what Keystone State bass anglers can expect in 2009. (June 2009)

The biggest news in Pennsylvania bass fishing over the past few years has been problems with smallmouth bass recruitment in the Susquehanna River. However, this should not mislead bass anglers into thinking that the outlook for 2009 is anything less than very good. Bad news makes better headlines than good news. There are plenty of good stories to tell.

DISEASE ALERT
However, before the good news there is an important message for Keystone State bass anglers about measures they can take to protect our bass resources. Largemouth bass virus has been documented in Pennsylvania since about 2005, most notably at Francis J. Sayers Lake, a lake in the central part of the commonwealth, which is extremely popular among bass tournament anglers.

More recently another virus, viral hemorrhagic septicemia, was detected in the Great Lakes. Regulations have been adopted in all Great Lakes states to prevent its spread. Guidelines for anglers are about the same as those for preventing the spread of largemouth bass virus, but there are specific regulations governing the movement of fish.

"I think prevention and awareness are important among anglers," said Bob Lorantas, Warmwater Unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "It's best not to move bass around because you could potentially be introducing something you really don't want. And certainly if you fish out of state a lot, or fish a lot of different waters, using the sterilization techniques that are effective for zebra mussels would be a good procedure to avoid harming your favorite bass water."

Lorantas said that anglers should check the boat, motor and trailer for hitchhikers including weeds when they remove their boat from the water.

"Wash the boat hull with hot water or a high-pressure spray," he advised. "Drain the livewell, bilge and other compartments, and drain all standing water from the boat. Do not dump leftover bait into the water where you are fishing unless you collected the bait there.

"You may want to refrain from moving fish from Point A to Point B anywhere in the state because you run the risk of transporting harmful creatures that you really don't want to move around: microorganisms, disease organisms in particular, things that may actually do more harm than good," Lorantas said.

Anglers have done great damage to countless fisheries because they introduced nuisance invasive species. Sometimes this has been accidental, but in many cases, it has been intentional.

Often, anglers have introduced fish into waters because they wanted to create new fisheries for their favorite fish. In many cases, the results have been disastrous. A classic case is the carp, which was brought to America centuries ago by colonists. In Europe this species had been, and still is, highly prized, but in America it's still considered a "trash fish" that muddies the water, ruins habitat and devours the eggs of more popular species.

"I don't want to be an alarmist," Lorantas said, "but I want to make folks aware that there is potential for anglers to do harm, but there's also potential for them to be conscientious about how they conduct themselves."

For more information and cautionary alerts, check the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us. In the left column under Non-game Species, click on Aquatic Invasive Species.

ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
Continual research by Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission biologists has been the reason that our bass fishing has continually improved. Through research, our waters have been given individual attention.

"The commission's management staff continues to survey waters across the state. Lakes, reservoirs, streams and rivers are monitored for density changes and to determine what management changes might take place to improve fishing opportunities. In some cases, if waters meet specific criteria they may be added to the Big Bass Program," Lorantas said.

BIG BASS PROGRAM
Pennsylvania's Big Bass Program has been immensely successful both in terms of protecting bass resources and in pleasing anglers. This is probably the single most effective tool for achieving quality bass fishing in waters that have the best potential.

Big Bass Program regulations treat rivers and lakes differently but in both cases provide guidelines to produce larger bass.

In rivers and streams, from Jan. 1 through mid-April and from Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, an angler may harvest two bass per day with a minimum size of 18 inches. From mid-April through mid-June, no bass may be harvested and tournaments are not permitted. From mid-June through Sept. 30, an angler may harvest four bass with a minimum size of 15 inches per day.

In lakes from mid-April through mid-June, no bass may be harvested and tournaments are not permitted. During the remainder of the year, an angler may harvest four bass with a minimum size of 15 inches per day.

In both cases, specific dates are available in the summary of fishing regulations and laws.

Two Monroe County lakes have been added to the Big Bass Program for 2009: Gouldsboro Lake and Bradys Lake. Coincidentally, these lakes have also been added to the Panfish Enhancement Special Regulations list. This brings the total of waters in that program to 61.

Several biologists' survey reports during 2008 provided interesting information for bass anglers, including useful tips on where to find good bass fishing this year.

The results of Big Bass Program regulations were clearly evident during a nighttime electro-shocking survey at Lower Hereford Manor Lake. A total of 108 largemouth bass from 5.5 inches to 21 inches were captured. Of these, 75 percent were larger than 12 inches and 38 percent were larger than 15 inches. This total was an 84 percent improvement since a 2006 survey.

Lower Hereford Manor Lake covers 45 acres west of Zelienople in Beaver County. Boats are limited to manual or electric power.

A three-night electro-shocking survey at Presque Isle Bay yielded the highest number of bass ever sampled here: 675 largemouth bass and 18 smallmouth bass in 3.5 hours, a 100 percent increase in catch per unit effort from the previous year. The catch per unit effort was 202.5 bass per hour. The catch of bass longer than 15 inches rose 245 percent from 2007 and was the highest in 18 years of sampling.

Even before this impressive survey, Presque Isle

Bay had been providing exceptional largemouth bass fishing for a few years.

Presque Isle Bay, as with Lake Erie, is different from Big Bass Program waters in that during the period when no bass may be harvested elsewhere, anglers here may harvest one bass per day with a minimum length of 20 inches. This is primarily a season directed at trophy smallmouth bass, for which Lake Erie is famous.

The bay has similar potential for largemouth bass, but the fishing typically begins earlier in the spring because the bay warms quicker than the big lake.

Presque Isle Bay is between the city of Erie and Presque Isle State Park.

A catch per unit effort of 73 bass per hour at Stevens Lake during May was part of results that exceeded objectives for this Big Bass Program lake. Bass ranged in size from 5 to 17 inches. The 62-acre lake is in Wyoming County north from Tunkhannock.

Upper Woods Pond is in Wayne County on State Game Lands 159. It was reclaimed by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission during the early 1980s and has been managed as a trout fishery. However, increasing numbers of bass catches were observed by a PFBC official, including a 21-inch, 7.5-pound largemouth bass that was caught and released. As a result, it was requested that the lake be surveyed for bass.

The electro-shocking survey in June 2008 revealed the presence of largemouth bass and smallmouth bass, indicating that the Northeast Region has a new bass fishery. It is believed that the bass may have migrated up from Lower Woods Pond, which is in the Big Bass Program, during a high-water period.

The Highland Sewer and Water Authority own Beaverdam Run Reservoir, a 360-acre lake east of Beaverdale in Cambria County. It was opened to fishing in 2000 and the fishery has improved largely due to the efforts of the Beaverdam Conservation Group. It is managed under Big Bass Program and Panfish Enhancement special regulations.

Beaverdan Run Reservoir is a clear, acidic lake. In 2003 and 2004, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission stocked smallmouth bass fingerlings as an attempt to establish a self-sustaining population. The Beaverdam Conservation Group limed the lake and feeder streams in 2006 and 2007, which has resulted in improved water quality.

A night electro-shocking survey in 2008 indicated that those efforts have been successful. Results improved considerably since 2001 for smallmouth bass, however, the largemouth bass situation has not changed. Water quality problems probably will not allow this to ever become a great bass fishery. Nonetheless, conservation efforts have made it a worthwhile fishery.

Green Lick Lake is a 101-acre lake in Fayette County east of Woodale. It is owned by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and is surrounded by a county park that provides a pleasant setting for fishing. A 2008 electro-shocking survey showed results that place this lake within the guidelines for the Big Bass Program, although the lake is not yet included in the program.

Largemouth bass indices have improved with each survey since 1979, with the number of bass collected per hour about tripling and the abundance of quality bass increasing considerably. Bass longer than 15 inches were collected at a rate of 24 per hour, well over the state guideline of 2 per hour.

Of course, not every survey produces great news. The largemouth bass population has declined in the main lake at Raccoon State Park west of Pittsburgh in Beaver County. The catch rate of bass longer than 12 inches dropped from well over 45 per hour in 1995 to just over 15 per hour last year. Yet, Raccoon Lake still is well within the guidelines for the Big Bass Program. The catch rate of largemouth bass longer than 15 inches was 11 per hour, which is quite respectable.

SUSQUEHANNA UPDATE
While standard electro-shocking surveys were being conducted on several bass waters last year, a much more extensive effort was focused on the Susquehanna River.

"The key feature that we are focusing on in our rivers, in particular the Susquehanna River, is water quality and how that may be influencing some mortalities associated with young-of-the-year bass in 2005, 2007 and 2008," Lorantas said.

Dead young-of-the-year smallmouth bass were found throughout the Susquehanna River and North Branch Susquehanna River, in the lower West Branch Susquehanna River and the Juniata River. The dead bass were infected with a bacterium known as Columnaris, but it was not known if that was the cause of mortality -- or a result.

A clue to the mortality was that summers in 2005 and 2007 were characterized by little rainfall, low flow conditions and high temperatures. By comparison, the Allegheny and Delaware rivers, which are similar to the Susquehanna River in several respects, did not experience the same problem.

Preliminary data collected by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission suggested that low dissolved oxygen might have been a contributing factor.

"That study consumed a significant amount of agency attention up to and including a creel survey that covered some 130 miles of river," Lorantas said.

A study of temperature, dissolved oxygen and nutrient monitoring in the Susquehanna River in summer 2008 was proposed by the U.S. Geological Survey and conducted in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The USGS agreed to pay $50,000 of the estimated cost of $250,000 depending on the availability of federal funds, with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission funding the remainder.

Results of that study should have been released by the time you read this.

"There are some large fish that persist in the population from earlier year-classes, but those intermediate sized fish that tend to be, at least on the Susquehanna, the bread and butter for fishermen," Lorantas said. "You catch a lot of 8-, 10- and 12-inchers, but the 15- to 18-inch fish tend to be a little sparse, as they are in most fish populations. It's those bread-and-butter fish that are not as prevalent. I don't want to suggest that they're not in existence, but without them catch rates tend to be below average."

Night electro-shocking surveys on the West Branch Susquehanna River to assess the adult smallmouth bass population during July 2008 revealed results similar to the long-term average. A good catch rate of Age One smallmouths indicated a strong 2007 year-class. The surveys were taken at the usual sites in Montoursville, Watsontown and Chillisquaque.

With the current stresses on smallmouth bass recruitment and in response to angler concerns about tournaments that focus on taking black bass, a new regulation was passed and went into effect April 5, 2008, that makes it illegal to conduct a bass tournament that kills bass on the North Branch, West Branch and main stem of the Susquehanna River.

Before and during the public comment period from Dec.

8, 2007 through Jan. 8, 2008, anglers overwhelmingly favored the regulation.

For more information about the Susquehanna River, log onto the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Web site. In the right column, click on "Susquehanna smallmouth mgmt."

OTHER ISSUES
Several years ago, new regulations mandated the removal or repair of numerous dams in Pennsylvania. In addition to draining the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's budget, the process has affected some local bass fisheries. This year, lakes scheduled to be drawn down for dam repair include Leaser Lake in Lehigh County and Opossum Lake in Cumberland County.

In 2007, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission added a new division, the Division of Habitat Management. Significant components of this division are the Adopt-A-Stream and Adopt-A-Lake programs, both cooperative programs that depend heavily on volunteer groups.

One of the more popular projects is placing fish habitat structures in lakes. Although these structures probably do not increase the bass population of a lake, they do improve fishing because fish are attracted to the structures.

Maps identifying the structures are on the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Web site. In the left column under "Fish," click on "Habitat," and then on that page click on "Fish habitat improvement plans."

For more information about traveling in the commonwealth, contact Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; 717-232-8880, or 1-800-VISIT-PA.

For more information about Pennsylvania's bass-fishing opportunities, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; call (717) 705-7800, or visit the Web site, www.fish.state. pa.us.

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