We'll give you a peek at what's in store for Keystone State trout anglers as we enter the 2006 open-water fishing season. (March 2006)
Pennsylvania trout fishermen can look forward to a season similar to last year with only minor exceptions.
Following decades of excellent trout fishing in Pennsylvania, this means yet another great year of trout fishing. As usual, the weather will have the greatest influence on the fortunes of fishing during the first weeks of trout season. If we have an early spring and only moderate rain, most fishermen will be pleased.
"Our stocking numbers are going to be similar to 2005, about 4.2 million catchable trout," said Tom Green, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's Coldwater Unit leader. "That's a ballpark number. Species composition will be about the same. Our big change is going to be in 2007. That's when we're going to see fewer but larger trout."
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has been holding meetings with representatives of fishing groups from different parts of the state. These people have repeatedly told commission members that anglers prefer quality over quantity.
State hatcheries are limited by the amount of biomass they can produce. This means they can only produce a specific number of trout by weight. This weight can be divided into larger but fewer trout, or smaller but a greater number of trout. For 2007, there will be 800,000 fewer trout, about 2.1 million adult trout, but they will be 30 percent larger by weight.
The stockings will still contain a few of the larger trout that we have been seeing for the past several years, and stocking allocations in the various approved trout waters should be about the same this year as last year.
"We've just wrapped up creel survey work on our stocked trout streams," Greene said. "We're working on those numbers right now."
If analysis of the creel survey indicates changes should be made in allocations, it will not happen until next year.
The biggest changes trout fishermen will see this year are changes on special regulations waters.
One example of the way special regulations will be consolidated is combining 26 Delayed Harvest Fly Fishing Only (DHFFO) and seven Heritage Angling into Catch-and-Release Fly-Fishing Only waters. These two special regulations were similar, differing only in that trout could be harvested during a specified period in the DHFFO sections. A large number of fly-fishermen are catch-and-release oriented, so this change should not meet with much objection, and it should improve fishing quality in affected streams while reducing the need for stocking these streams.
Waters designated as part of this program provide year-round fly-fishing with no harvest. Fishing will be permitted from one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. There will be no need for barbless hooks and no restriction on wading unless otherwise posted.
Also, last year, the Fish and Boat Commission voted to create a new program of Catch-and-Release All-Tackle areas that went into effect Jan. 1 this year. Waters in this program will be open for year-round trout fishing with no harvest and no special tackle restrictions.
Two waters currently under various special regulations (portions of Spring Creek in Centre County and Valley Creek in Chester County) were designated as Catch-and-Release All-Tackle areas.
A proposal to allow all tackle to be used in Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only areas during the harvest season of June 15 through Labor Day was not adopted.
Probably the most important piece of advice for trout fishermen as the new season opens is to look for "high-yield" trout streams. These are the streams that get the greatest number of stocked trout. To achieve high-yield status, streams should have plenty of public access, including at least 50 percent public land along the banks and good road access, and they should be medium-sized, meaning a width of 13 feet to 66 feet.
The reason streams such as this are stocked more heavily is because a greater portion of stocked trout are caught than at other streams. Adult trout are stocked specifically so anglers can catch them in order to provide the greatest amount of recreation for money expended.
The following are some of the changes and studies specific to each region in the state along with tips on where you might find good trout fishing this season.
Stockings of fingerling trout have created several of the better trout fisheries around the Commonwealth. These are largely surplus trout from hatcheries, so stocking numbers are not consistent from year to year.
"One river that is doing well for us is the Schuylkill River," Greene said. "It's on an area that has been severely degraded for a number of years.
Coalmining operations had polluted the river for many years. That situation has improved. Also, municipal sewage treatment is better.
"The one good thing about it," Greene noted, "is that there is plenty of cold water available there."
The Schuylkill River was stocked over a three-year period with approximately 100,000 brook, brown and rainbow trout fingerlings, with brook trout upstream from Pottsville and the browns and rainbows downstream from Pottsville.
Electro-shocking crews surveyed the river in late summer 2004 on about 14.5 miles of water from Middleport downstream to the state game lands below Schuylkill Haven. Biologists did not find a high density of trout, but compared with the past, it is a significant improvement and provides a decent opportunity for anglers seeking an alternative to the higher fishing pressure at streams stocked with adult trout. They did find a fair number of brook trout longer than 9 inches, rainbow trout to 14 inches and some brown trout longer than 20 inches. In spite of this, fishing pressure has been light.
Another of the better quality trout- fishing opportunities in the Southeast Region resulting from the fingerling- stocking program is at Tulpehocken Creek. Starting at the outflow from Blue Marsh Lake, anglers have been catching trout as large as 20 inches. These fish are now virtually wild. Both brown trout and rainbow trout fingerlings have been planted here.
Finally, a 0.74-mile section of Wiconisco Creek in Dauphin County was added to the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only program.
When comments were requested on several proposed regulations changes around the Commonwealth, South-central Region trout fishermen seemed more concerned about the proposals than fishermen elsewhere.
"The waters we heard the most comments on were Spring Creek and the Little Juniata," Greene said.
One of the more significant streams in all of Pennsylvania with a probable change in regulations in the offing is the Little Juniata River. The All Tackle Trophy Trout section was proposed as an All-Tackle Catch-and-Release area. This can do nothing but improve an already superb quality trout fishery. (Be sure to check the 2006 regulations summary for the final determination on this proposal.)
Public comments favored catch-and-release. A few commenters opposed the use of live bait, but Greene noted that this fishery has been steadily improving under previous special regulations.
The Little Juniata flows from Tyrone toward Huntingdon. The Special Regulations section is 13.5 miles from the railroad bridge at the east (downstream) border of Ironville downstream to the mouth.
While you are in the area, do not hesitate to visit the Frankstown Branch where a bicycle path provides access. It is not so well known but holds some nice browns.
Spring Creek has a couple of special regulations stretches, including a Miscellaneous Special Regulations run where fishing may be done with artificial lures, flies and streamers, natural bait, baitfish and fish bait. Angling is permitted year 'round, and it is unlawful to kill or possess any trout in this area and all fish caught must be immediately returned to the water.
This stretch is from the state Route 3010 bridge at Oak Hall above the HRI Quarry to the mouth of the stream and Fisherman's Paradise, that renowned mile-long stretch from the lower boundary of the Spring Creek Fish Culture Station to a point adjacent to the Stackhouse School Pistol Range.
A decision to drain Opossum Lake, a 59-acre impoundment near Carlisle in Cumberland County, was made last September after a routine assessment of the earthen embankment revealed small seeps in the spillway.
Southwest Region streams are surveyed about every 10 years on a rotation basis to maintain accurate, updated data on the streams. Later, necessary stocking changes can be made or to make other management changes and recommendations.
One interesting point derived from this work is that there are more trout left in the streams each year than most fishermen believe. Among the streams that might hold pleasant surprises for summertime trout fishermen are six Somerset County streams, including Elk Lick Creek, Bens Creek, Flaugherty Creek, Little Piney Creek, Kooser Run and Tub Mill Run.
Changes in the Special Regulations section of the Allegheny River from the Kinzua Dam downstream to Conewango Creek had been discussed. There was a proposal to eliminate the listing under Miscellaneous Special Regulations and include it with a revised Trophy Special Regulation. Anglers were also asked to comment on a proposal of allowing year-round trout fishing with a minimum size limit of 24 inches and a daily creel limit of one trout.
A complicating factor in trout fishing in this section of the Allegheny River is that it is a multi-species fishery. This section also has excellent fishing for walleyes and muskellunge along with smallmouth bass and northern pike.
But biologists noted a problem with the angler response period.
"We don't hear from them," Greene pointed out.
Generally, organized sportsmen's groups comment on regulations proposals. These are often special interest groups and it is not known whether they represent a general viewpoint.
So, for the time being, Miscellaneous Special Regulations will remain intact on the river. Under current regulations, trout fishing is allowed year 'round, but trout may only be kept from 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season until Labor Day, when the minimum size limit is 14 inches and the creel limit is two trout.
A trout stamp or trout/Lake Erie stamp is required if trout are killed, taken or in possession. Trout fishing is strictly catch-and-release during the remainder of the year.
Often overlooked except by local anglers and a few observant visitors is the Clarion River. It was not so long ago that poor water quality in this small river ruled out a good trout fishery. That has changed. Adult trout stocking in some sections and tributaries and fingerling stocking have taken advantage of the river's much-improved water quality. Although access is a problem, parts of the Clarion River now rate among the better trout waters in Pennsylvania.
The All-Tackle Trophy Trout section of the Clarion River has been proposed to change to an All-Tackle Catch-and-Release area. Watch for this in the regulations changes.
Three sections of East Branch Tunungwant Creek were surveyed late last July. This stream is south of the city of Bradford in north-central McKean County. Section 2 of the East Branch Tunungwant Creek is a Class A brown trout stream and is managed under Trophy Trout regulations. It runs from the Main Street bridge in the town of Lewis Run upstream three miles to the unnamed tributary known locally as Pigeon Run.
Sections 3 and 4 are also Class A wild brown trout waters and are managed under the statewide standard regulations. Section 3 runs from the bridge at Main Street downstream one mile to Browntown Road, and Section 4 runs from Browntown Road downstream 3.5 miles to the bridge at South Bradford where channelization for flood control begins.
Section 2 produced an estimated 46 pounds of brown trout per acre of stream, well above the minimum of about 35 pounds per acre for Class A streams. Section 3 produced an estimate of 18.5 pounds per acre and Section 4 an estimate of 16.8 pounds per acre.
Except for several deep pools, long reaches of wide, shallow, open stream dominate the habitat in sections 3 and 4, with none of the overhead cover that trout prefer. Habitat improvement here could greatly enhance the quality of the fishery in this trophy brown trout stream.
In other action, a 2.9-mile section of East Fork Sinnemahoning Creek in Potter County was removed from Catch-and-Release regulations.
One of the more interesting recent studies involved the movement of pre-season stocked trout at Tunkhannock Creek in Susquehanna County and Wysox Creek in Bradford County. The study included tagging, radio telemetry and electro-shocking.
Almost all of the pre-season trout stocked in both streams were tagged by a piece of colored plastic attached near the dorsal fin. A dozen trout with implanted
radio transmitters were placed into Wysox Creek and 13 such trout were released into Tunkhannock Creek. These were about evenly mixed brook, brown and rainbow trout.
The transmitters send signals that biologists can track to see where and when the fish move. Funding from the FishAmerica Foundation contributed to this study.
The radio-tagged fish showed little movement for the first three days of the study, and then between day four and day six, all of the rainbows in Wysox Creek and four of the five rainbows in Tunkhannock Creek left their stocking points. Three of the Wysox rainbows disappeared. A fourth tracked trout was found on day 16 in the North Branch Susquehanna River between Catawissa and Danville, 123.1 miles away from where it was stocked!
All but one of the Tunkhannock rainbows dispersed downstream from the lower stocking limit. The other, which was stocked near the town of Smiley, stayed at its stocking point for 14 days before taking up a position in a deep pool 0.4 mile downstream. Once they took up a position, most of the Tunkhannock rainbows remained in that vicinity for the duration of the study. The farthest downstream movement documented for the Tunkhannock rainbows was 12.6 miles.
Some of the brown trout moved between day 1 and day 2, but most stayed at their stocking points for at least seven days. Brown trout movement was generally downstream, but one Wysox brown moved 0.7 mile upstream. One Tunkhannock brown moved a total of 6.3 miles, but the others did not travel as far. Only one of the brown trout found its way into the river and two were lost.
All but one of the brook trout remained where they were stocked for a minimum of 10 days. Brook trout movement ranged between 0.5 mile and 11.6 miles with the greatest movement occurring in Tunkhannock Creek.
Anglers catching one of these tagged trout are asked to report it to firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information about trout fishing in Pennsylvania, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; or call (717) 705-7800.
For information about traveling in the state, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120; or call (717) 232-8880 or (800) VISIT-PA.