Pennsylvania trout fishing continues to flourish in both its stocking program and Class A streams alike.
By Thomas Ham
With more than 86,000 miles of streams in the Keystone State many people find it hard to fathom all that Pennsylvania offers from a cold-water fishery standpoint. Indeed, all species entice Pennsylvania anglers to the water, but trout fishing is on par with deer hunting and chicken pot pie.
First, some basics about the upcoming season. This year trout season once again has two opening days, based on location. The 18 southeastern counties traditionally staring first will open March 31 and the remaining counties open on April 14.
Southeastern counties with the early opener are: Adams, Berks, Bucks, Chester, Cumberland, Dauphin, Delaware, Franklin, Juniata, Lancaster, Lebanon, Lehigh, Montgomery, Northampton, Perry, Philadelphia, Schuylkill and York.
While stocking trout is still its bread and butter, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission strove to promote its wild trout initiatives in 2017.
“We’ve always had a focus on our wild trout populations; we’re just doing a better job of telling the story now,” said PFBC Executive Director John Arway. “The Wild Trout Summit was our way to give the public a better understanding of what we do for wild trout.”
The summit, held in August of 2017, presented several topics to the public. One of the items proffered was the Unassessed Waters initiative. For seven years the program has rallied PFBC staff and participating partners to survey 12,410 miles of PA streams. That has led to 5,607 miles of stream being classified as ‘Wild Trout’ or ‘Class A’ waters.
The list of these waters continues to expand and anglers in all regions can expect to see new streams with these classifications. Last year alone 396 stream sections were added to the ‘Wild Trout’ list and 99 stream sections were added to the ‘Class A’ streams list. Looking ahead to 2018, McKean and Potter counties highlight the list of total stream sections being considered for Wild Trout designation.
Funded through shale impact fees and national grants, the unassessed waters initiative hopes to continue growing this year. Anglers targeting wild trout in 2018 can find a list of the top wild trout streams on the ‘Best Fishing Waters’ page under the ‘Locate’ tab of the PFBC website.
The Keystone Select program continues to be a success. Entering its third year, stocked trophy brown trout are an ongoing draw to anglers across the state, many of whom travel specifically to Keystone Select waters. In September of last year, the PFBC announced the addition of eight stream sections to the existing list, bringing the total to 22.
“We were confident when we created the Keystone Select program that anglers would enjoy the opportunities to catch trophy trout and wouldn’t mind driving the additional distances to these destination areas,” said Arway. “The addition of these eight streams now makes it even easier for anglers to fish a Keystone Select stream within just a few hours of their home.”
Arway also asserts that the Keystone Select program more effectively uses state brood fish for angling opportunities without increased costs, noting that the program takes place on stream sections with catch and release regulations, allowing the resource to be “recycled,” so to speak.
The program places approximately 6,500 large trout (14 to 20 inches) in the 22 designated streams sections which are all under the DHALO classification. The stocking rate is 175 to 225 per mile, which is comparable to most wild trout streams.
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Aside from the Keystone Select program, mentored youth days are increasingly popular, especially among angling families. License sales data indicate that since its first year in 2013 participation numbers have increased from 5,110 children to over 30,000 last year. The 2018 Mentored Youth Fishing Days are March 24 in the southeastern counties and April 7 statewide. Anglers 16 years or younger can fish with a mentor from 8 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. Mentors must be licensed and youths need a mentored youth permit or a volunteer license. Mentors must release their catch unharmed and youths can harvest two trout of at least 7 inches.
The stocking program, at the time of writing this article, was put dead center into a political maelstrom as the PFBC released a statement in September 2017 claiming the closure of hatcheries may become necessary if the commission cannot set its own fees, which haven’t budged since 2005. The ideal license fee would move to $27.30 before the cost of a trout stamp.
According to Arway, the state’s 14 hatcheries run on about $13 million annually, approximately 25 percent of the PFBC budget, which is largely dominated by personnel costs, pensions and healthcare. Between catchable trout and fingerlings, the state’s hatcheries place more than four million fish into PA waters per year; closing two hatcheries would eliminate roughly a quarter million stocked fish.
“This will not affect the 2018 stocking schedules,” says Arway, “but anglers need to know it’s a potential reality for 2019 and should contact their legislatures.”
The PFBC has begun working with the Penn State Business College on future plans to help ensure a solvent agency going ahead, regardless of the political outcome. Passing triennial audits with flying colors, the PFBC and its fee-setting destiny are married to the Pennsylvania Game Commission in the bill SB-30.
Between the PFBC and Cooperative nurseries, approximately 4.5 million trout were slated to be stocked in the lakes and streams of PA last year. Fingerling stocking also occurred in 20 waters spanning 15 counties from April through November. The 2018 stocking schedule will have no planned changes from last year as the PFBC commonly stocks about 3.2 million catchable trout in more than 700 streams and 120 lakes open to public angling. As always, the average size of the trout produced for stocking is 11 inches in length.
Fishermen can continue taking advantage of the PFBC mobile app. Available on Apple’s app store and Google Play, the free app named FishBoatPA will keep fishermen up to date on trout stocking schedules and locations.
Here are just a few key waters to seek out in the six regions of the state.
Here, trout season opens with the early opener of March 31.
Anglers fishing in Delaware County will want to try Darby and Ridley creeks. According to Mary Kuss, founder of the Delaware Valley Women’s Fly Fishing Association, both streams fish very well, especially in the early season when trout are recently stocked.
“The best tactic for the early-season fly-rod angler will be to search the waters with Woolly Buggers or other streamer patterns,” said Kuss, “try various bead-head nymph patterns sized 12 to 16.”
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Kuss suggests spin fisherman work spinners or small crank baits covering a lot of water. Trout-size Powerbait worms on a small jig head will also do and smaller finesse type baits work well for hold-over fish.
The Darby and Ridley are suburban area fisheries close to Philadelphia, and therefore get pressure, so fishing early in the day, and on weekdays helps to avoid the crowds.
Tulpehocken Creek near Reading became part of the Keystone Select program last year, and in 2018 the stocking sections expanded from the covered bridge to the Blue Marsh Dam.
Anglers local to the southcentral region will get to experience the excitement of opening day twice as counties comprising this section are split between the two openers.
PFBC biologists in this region suggested Clarks Creek in Dauphin County will offer exceptional trout fishing opportunities.
Clarks Creek, open on March 31, is stocked trout water winding 31 miles to the Susquehanna. It hosts a decent population of wild browns and has even produced wild brookies falling for flies or fly style spinners. Running through predominately wooded areas and emanating from a conservation-style feed from the DeHart Dam, the flows are consistent and cool.
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Fishermen seeking more than just trout might want to consider Muddy Creek in York County. This Susquehanna River tributary is known not only for its fishing but great rafting and camping opportunities as well. The Muddy fishes under the ‘Stocked Trout Water’ regulations, but also contains a C&R FFO stretch. Access points and parking can be found on the website for the Muddy Creek Chapter of TU, http://www.muddycreektu.org/ .
Southwestern counties will open April 14.
Local trout enthusiasts won’t need to travel far for big fish as this region is now home to five Keystone Select waters.
Two 2018 additions to the program are Buffalo Creek in Armstrong County and the very picturesque Meadow Run in Fayette County. Buffalo Creek is slated for the stocking in Section 03 and Meadow Run is from the bridge on Dinner Bell Road downstream to the mouth.
Chest Creek in Cambria County was added to the program in 2017 and will hold trophy browns from the northern Patton borough line downstream to the bridge at Thomas Mills.
One of the original eight Keystone Select waters, Laurel Hill Creek in Somerset County, will hold the fish from 200 yards below the Countryman Bridge downstream to the T-364 Bridge upstream of Laurel Hill Lake.
Another original Keystone Select water continuing to keep the large browns is section 3 of the Loyalhanna Creek in Westmoreland County. The creek also receives normal doses of stockings and there is very good angler access near Ligonier, PA.
All counties in this region open to trout fishing on April 14.
Oil Creek, in Venango County is one of the most popular stocked trout waters in this region. The stream has good shoreline accessibility and ample parking. The Oil not only provides a great opportunity to catch the usual stocked trout but Section 07 is also included in the Keystone Select Trout Program. Stockings are March, April and October. The trophy browns will be placed from the Petroleum Center Bridge downstream to the Columbia Farm Railroad Bridge.
Glade Run Lake in Butler County was reopened to the public after the rebuild completion in 2017. The 52-acre impoundment is in Glade Run Lake Park, just east of highway 228. Anglers are encouraged to return to the water but should know special regulations remain in place to help rebuild the fishery.
All waters in this region will open April 14, with the exception of March 31 openers for Mahantango Creek and West Branch Mahantango Creek.
Just under 43 miles long, Kettle Creek in Potter and Clinton counties is another Susquehanna tributary worth looking at. It typically receives three spring stockings of brown and rainbow trout. The Upper Kettle Creek basin is a hefty stretch of C&R All Tackle, while Kettle Creek Lake is open to year-round fishing and receives a booster stocking of rainbows in the fall.
There are new developments for the West branch of the Susquehanna as the PFBC approved a proposal to place Catch and Release All-Tackle regulations on the upper reaches of the river. The affected stream section is approximately 26.6 miles from the acid mine drainage treatment plant in Watkins downstream to the confluence with Cush Creek near Dowler Junction in Clearfield county.
“The change will help protect the wild trout populations as the river continues to recover from acid mine drainage,” said Jason Detar, Area 3 Fisheries Manager. “This is a special opportunity to protect, improve, and highlight the developing wild trout fishery in a region where many waterways have not supported fisheries for over a century due to pollution.”
Portions of Lizard and Mahoning Creek will open early with the 18 southeastern counties; otherwise the region opens April 14. Anglers should refer to the summary book for clarification.
Fishing Creek in Columbia County meanders past the town of Bloomsburg just prior to its joining the Susquehanna. Providing more than a few trout opportunities in its 30-mile course, sections three and five are on the PFBC list of the state’s best fishing waters for stocked trout. Anglers should be aware of posted areas, but will have no trouble finding public access and even posted areas allowing walk-in-only angling.
Fishermen seeking wild trout in this region should investigate Towanda Creek in Bradford County. The headwaters and 5 miles downstream have been identified by the PFBC to contain naturally reproducing fish. The stream also gets a springtime double dose of all three trout species in sections fishing under the typical inland regulations as well as DHALO regulations.
The northeast region also contains two Keystone Select streams; the South Branch Tunkhannock Creek in Lackawanna and Wyoming Counties, and Harvey’s Creek in Luzerne County.