What's in store for Keystone State trout anglers in 2008? Issues range from trout stocking to stream-access court battles, as our expert explains. (March 2008).
Photo by Steve Carpenteri.
The best just keeps getting better! Pennsylvania's trout management program, already the envy of the nation, is constantly being improved and enhanced. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, in spite of many obstacles, is continually asking anglers what they want and always working toward improvements.
Keystone State trout fishermen mainly want to know how many trout will be stocked. And how big will they be? Let's get that out of the way so we can get on to things that are more important in the long run.
According to Tom Greene, the PFBC's Coldwater Unit leader, this year's stocking numbers will be very close to what they were last year -- a little over 3.4 million trout.
"We're still targeting larger fish that would average 11 inches in length," he said.
The stocking program will again include about 130,000 rainbow trout imported from North Carolina, which seemed to make trout fishermen quite happy last season.
Also, about 100,000 trout will be made available through agreements with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, though they will come from the hatchery at Lamar instead of the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery, which is still off line.
Over the past several years, the differences in numbers of stocked trout haven't been enough to make a bit of difference in fishing success, except in specific cases where individual lakes or streams were added or removed from stocking lists, or in individual streams where changes in stocking strategies added or reduced the numbers of fish.
In recent years, among the more interesting research projects has been a Trout Movement Study that began in 2005 and included tagging, radio telemetry and electro-shocking trout on two streams in the Northeast Region, at Tunkhannock Creek in Susquehanna County and at Wysox Creek in Bradford County.
"We've been looking at trout residency and stocking points," explained Rob Wnuk, area fisheries manager. "We knew trout move, but we didn't know why. There were cases where we stocked fish pre-season and by the time the season opened, there were no fish there."
This project started in 2003 when the East and West branches of Dyberry Creek in Wayne County were stocked to see if angler complaints were correct. Two days after stocking, Fish and Boat Commission biologists returned with their electro-shocking gear and found no fish!
Where did they go?
When the pilot Trout Movement Study began in 2005, a dozen radio-tagged trout were stocked on Wysox Creek, and another 13 fish were stocked in Tunkhannock Creek.
During the first three days after stocking, there was very little movement. Rainbow trout proved to be the real roamers. Between the fourth and sixth days after stocking, all of the rainbows stocked in Wysox Creek and four of the five ones stocked in Tunkhannock Creek were gone.
Three of those Wysox Creek rainbows were never seen again. A fourth tagged, stocked trout was located on Day 16 in the West Branch Susquehanna River, 123.1 miles away from the stocking point!
One of the Tunkhannock Creek rainbows remained in the pool where it was stocked for 14 days, then took up residency in a pool 0.4 miles downstream. One of the trout vanished, while the others dispersed downstream, one taking up residency 12.6 miles downstream from the stocking point.
While the rainbow trout moved downstream, movements of the brown trout were more variable. Most stayed at their stocking points for a couple of weeks. A few moved on the first and second days after stocking.
One of the Wysox Creek browns moved 0.7 mile upstream. The longest movement by a brown trout was one at Tunkhannock Creek that moved 6.3 miles.
Only one of the radio-tagged browns was lost.Brook trout were relative homebodies. All but one brookie remained at its stocking point for at least 10 days, and brook trout movement ranged from 0.5 miles to 11.6 miles. One of the brook trout was the only radio-tagged trout to ascend a tributary stream. One of the radio-tagged brook trout was lost, and two were apparently eaten by mink.
By the time trout season opened, only a half-dozen of the 25 radio-tagged trout remained in the stocked sections of the two creeks.
Obviously, all this has significant implications for trout anglers. Following a stocking truck might be an effective, if perhaps ignoble, in-season strategy. But pre-season stocking locations are not always a reliable tip for finding trout on opening day.
In addition to the radio-tagged trout, an additional 4,000 trout were tagged and stocked into these streams. The project was given good publicity. Anglers were asked to report tagged trout and information about them. Information to be collected included the species of trout caught, the date of catch, where caught, tag color, tag number and whether the fish was kept or released.
Each tag's color signified which stream the trout was stocked in, and whether it was acclimated to cold or warm water temperatures. The tag number revealed the species of the stocked trout.
Even though there were incentives for returning tags, or tag information, only six of the 4,000 tags were returned, too few to draw any conclusions.
Of course, trout movement varies from stream to stream. Fish and Boat Commission biologists have looked into 30 variables, such as habitat and water quality, but there are still no clear answers.
Two factors that were immediately suspect -- flooding and water chemistry -- have seemingly been eliminated as causes for dispersal.
Still, no verifiable reasons for trout dispersal have been confirmed. However, a couple of things have come out of this study. The timing of which species are stocked has been changed. Rainbow trout tend to be stocked more in-season. In some streams, pre-season stocking is being done closer to the opening day of trout season.
In 2006, this study was expanded statewide, and a total of 135 stream sections were checked by electro-shocking crews to track trout movements. This confirmed that the problem is not confined to the Northeas
t Region. Poor results were found at about 30 percent of the sites.
"We're going to continue to look at that," Greene said. "It's not like it's happening everywhere. It's probably more of a problem in the northern tier. Water temperature could come into play. There's a lot of cold water up there."
The worst-case scenario, according to Greene, is that some stream sections may not be able to be stocked.
"We're looking into the Brook Trout Enhancement regulations that went into effect a few years back," said Dave Miko, a PFBC area fisheries manager whose area covers much of the South Central Region.
The Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program has implications that go well beyond Pennsylvania's borders. Brook trout are the only native Eastern trout other than lake trout, which are primarily denizens of deep, cold lakes and were not historically as widespread in the East as brook trout.
There was such great concern over the viability of native wild brook trout strains that the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture was established.
Brook trout had been native through the Appalachian Mountains from Maine to Georgia. First, it was imperative to get brook trout added to the Wildlife Action Plan in each state to get federal funding for research through the State Wildlife Grants Program.
In Pennsylvania, brook trout have been eliminated or greatly reduced throughout about 70 percent of their historic range, even though Pennsylvania is considered one of the species' last strongholds.
Stream surveys conducted since 1976 have found wild brook trout populations in about 5,044 stream miles. However, these are mostly fragmented sections, primarily in small headwater tributary streams.The Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program is designed to protect our wild brook trout. The historic range and abundance of brook trout have been greatly reduced through several causes, including degradation of habitat, intermingling with introduced hatchery brook trout strains and having to compete with introduced brown and rainbow trout.
Regulations for the Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program allow fishing year 'round, but no brook trout may be killed or held in possession. There are no tackle restrictions.
The special regulations apply to brook trout only. General regulations apply to all other trout species, and a current trout-salmon permit is required.
In Miko's area, Shaeffer Run in Perry County was checked by electro-shocking to monitor changes since it was surveyed in 2004, before Wild Brook Trout Enhancement regulations were imposed.
The goal had been to increase the number of 9-inch wild brook trout. The increase had been just one fish per 900-foot section.
"In Shaeffer Run, things are almost identical to the way they were before the regulations," Miko said. "The actual biomass changed from 25.5 kilograms per hectare to 20 kilograms per hectare. Essentially, it was identical. The bottom line is we're not seeing any change with this regulation."
Apparently angler harvests had been having no appreciable effect on the wild brook trout population.
Sherman Creek, which is managed under normal statewide regulations, was used as a control stream in Perry County to check against Shaeffer Creek. Results there were similar, further indicating that the regulations are having negligible effects.
However, the Fish and Boat Commission is not yet ready to give up on its Wild Brook Trout Enhancement Program.
"There's not a great deal of difference to date," Greene explained. "But keep in mind, it's quite early. Usually it takes a few years." Differences in stream flow and weather patterns can have a great effect on brook trout in smaller streams. Without the proper conditions, trout will not flourish. Conversely, poor conditions can cause population declines despite protective regulations.
At Kettle Creek, the first watershed where the program was used, great changes have been observed. Kettle Creek, which flows through Potter County, is one of the finest and most famous freestone creeks in the East. Access is excellent, and the best trout water is upstream from Alvin R. Bush Dam in Clinton County.
Recent management changes have included a lengthening of the Delayed Harvest Artificial Lures Only area on Sandy Lick Creek, in Clearfield County. "Last year was the first year for that, and it seemed to be pretty well received," Greene said.
Sandy Lick Creek became suitable for stocking after many years of poor water quality. It was stocked for the first time last year, partly through a cooperative venture with the Allegheny Mountain Chapter of Trout Unlimited. Lengthening the Delayed Harvest area will provide better access and a clearly defined lower boundary at state Route 219.
In the DHALO program, regulations specify that a stream be open to fishing year 'round. Fishing hours are one hour before sunrise to one hour after sunset. The minimum-size limit for trout is 9 inches, caught on or in possession on the waters under these regulations, from one hour before sunrise on June 15 to one hour after sunset on Labor Day.
The daily creel limit is three combined species from one hour before sunrise on June 15 to one hour after sunset on Labor Day, caught on or in possession on the waters under these regulations.
Two days after stocking,Fish and Boat Commission biologists returned with theirelectro-shocking gear andfound no fish!
Where did they go?From the day after Labor Day until one hour before sunrise on June 15, the daily creel limit is zero. Fishing may be done with artificial lures only. All such lures may be used with spinning or fly-fishing gear.
Using or possessing any natural bait, baitfish, fish bait, bait paste and similar substances, fish eggs (natural or molded) or any other edible substance is prohibited. Taking baitfish or fish bait is prohibited. A current trout/salmon permit is required.
The fingerling trout-stocking program has met with both success and failure. "It doesn't work on every water, so we're going to look at that in the future," Greene said.
"Where it's not working, we should be putting those fish elsewhere."
One example of an outstanding trout fishery created by fingerling stocking is the Little Juniata River. Trout habitat is excellent with one exception: There is poor spawning habitat.
"Tailwaters where there is cool water have been our best areas," Greene explained.
The Allegheny River below Kinzua Dam has developed into one of the finest trout fisherie
s in the East.
Special regulations on an 8.75-mile section from the outflow of Kinzua Dam to the mouth of Conewango Creek in Warren allow trout fishing year 'round.
From Labor Day though the opening of the regular trout season, the fishing is strictly catch-and-release. From 8 a.m. on the opening day of the regular trout season through Labor Day, the minimum size for trout is 14 inches and the daily creel limit is two trout (combined species).
Browns and rainbows weighing more than 6 pounds are caught here on a fairly regular basis.
"Another water that's coming on is the Schuylkill River," Greene said.
This fishery has been developed with brown, rainbow and brook trout fingerlings. The trout fishery is primarily upstream from Schuylkill Haven. Brook trout are stocked in the upper reaches.
The river gets a good supply of cool water from mine drainage which, in the past, had been too polluted for trout.
Tulpehocken Creek, a tributary of the Schuylkill River in Berks County downstream from the primary trout fishery, has a good fishery thanks to cool discharges from Blue Marsh Lake. The temperature is not perfect, but at about 71 degrees, it's adequate to sustain a good trout fishery.
Among the newest regulations affecting trout anglers is a change voted on during the fall 2007 Fish and Boat Commission meeting. Before, anglers floating from one Special Regulations Area through another section with more conservative special regulations had become subject to fines.
This problem was addressed by a new rule allowing an angler in a boat to possess bait and fish caught in compliance with the seasons, sizes and creel limits in effect for the waters from which the fish was taken, provided that the boat angler floats through the Special Regulations Area without stopping or engaging in the act of fishing or takes out his boat at an access point within the specially regulated area.
Anglers are reminded that this rule was moved on initially and must be voted on again to confirm.
A fourth tagged, stocked trout was located on Day 16 in the West Branch Susquehanna River, 123.1 miles from the stocking point!
"I don't expect opponents to this," said Dan Tredinnick, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's press secretary.
Other trout-related rules moved on at that meeting were the additions of several stream sections to the list of Class A Waters. These include two sections of Wapwallopen Creek and one section of Big Wapwallopen Creek, both of which are inhabited by wild brook trout and wild brown trout; a section of Billiet Run, which holds wild brown trout; and Bow Creek, which holds wild brown trout.
All of these stream sections are in Luzerne County.
An emerging statewide issue is the privatization of streams. The battle for fishing rights at the Little Juniata River has been widely publicized. But this debate will not end at the Little Juniata. Anglers are encouraged to attend all meetings relevant to privatization if they want to continue to enjoy access to the better fishing streams in their area.
For more information about trout-fishing opportunities in the Keystone State, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, P.O. Box 67000, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Or you can phone (717) 705-7800; or log onto www.fish.state.pa.us.
Check that Web site for the latest trout-stocking schedule.
Find more about Pennsylvaniafishing and hunting at<a href="http://PAgameandfish.com target="_blank"PAgameandfish.com