Here's a look at what Keystone State trout fishermen can expect as they plan their 2009 angling excursions. (March 2009)
Can it be that the 2008 trout season has really passed? Is it already time to look into the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's 2009 trout management program? Last year was wonderful for trout fishing, and it appears that 2009 will be another great year. Some minor tweaking may take place, but most major changes are still a while into the future.
On the minds of most trout anglers, the biggest question is how many fish will they catch.
And how large will they be?
Tom Greene, PFBC Coldwater Unit Leader, said, "As far as I know, we're going to be pretty close to what we were last year."
Trout averaging about 11 inches are the results of a decision made with the general approval of the fishing public to stock larger trout, but slightly fewer ones.
Trout stocking is limited by a specified biomass -- that is, the total weight of all the trout, rather than by their numbers. The reason for this is that biomass determines the amount of effluent, the waste produced by trout, discharged from our hatcheries.
Rapidly growing trout produce a great deal of effluent, which ends up back in streams. Too much effluent makes streams excessively fertile. Though that may sound like a good thing, it actually can kill streams.
Also, remember that anything affecting a stream affects every waterway downstream. For example, too much effluent into Fishing Creek adds to the fertility of the Susquehanna River, which adds to the fertility of Chesapeake Bay.
Pollution comes in many forms. Some substances, like mercury, are toxic while others can be called fertilizers. The right amount of fertilizer is a good thing. Too much is deadly!
About 3.2-million adult trout will be stocked. This includes any trout that may be purchased from sources other than our state fish hatcheries.
During recent years, the state has purchased rainbow trout from a source in Tellico, N.C. Trout are also acquired from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's hatchery at Lamar, which provides about 100,000 brook trout and rainbow trout annually.
Previously, the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery provided brook trout for stocking into Allegheny National Forest streams, but this hatchery had to be closed a few years ago and has not yet come back on line.
The only thing now holding it back is federal funding. About $2 million is needed for an aeration tower to remove nitrogen and radon gasses and add oxygen. If and when this hatchery comes back on line, according to hatchery manager Tracy Copeland, it will probably stick to its primary function of raising lake trout for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
Even with the most modern precautions, disease outbreaks are a constant threat. After all, it was an outbreak of infectious pancreatic narcosis (IPN) that shut down the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery, thus depriving anglers of the 100,000 brook trout that it had been contributing to streams in the Allegheny National Forest -- as well as the 660,000 lake trout that it was stocking into Lake Erie and Lake Ontario.
During 2008, another disease became a major news item. It affected numerous species in all of the Great Lakes states including trout and, perhaps more importantly, one of the favorite trout baits.
After viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS) was detected in Great Lakes fishes, the U.S. Department of Health issued a ban on transporting all susceptible species between the states and Canadian provinces on the Great Lakes. This was not singled out as a ban on trout, even though trout are one of the species most affected.
Brookies are the only trout species native to Pennsylvania streams, and --aside from lake trout -- are the only trout that are native to the commonwealth.
On top of federal orders against transportation of affected species, the various states enacted their own legislation. Here in Pennsylvania, it's illegal to bring VHS-susceptible species from the Lake Erie watershed, or from other regions where VHS exists, into other Pennsylvania watersheds.
(There are certain exceptions, such as baitfish certified to be free of VHS.)
It's also unlawful to sell eggs from areas with VHS infections to be used as bait into areas other than the Lake Erie watershed.
These laws have affected two major components of the bait business: salmon eggs and emerald shiners. Both may be sold anywhere in Pennsylvania if they're certified to have come from a VHS-free source.
Because emerald shiners are a favorite salted baitfish, this has made it much harder to acquire salted minnows in many areas.
Originally, it was believed that dead fish couldn't transmit the disease, but it's since been learned that VHS can be passed from dead fish or parts of fish, including their eggs.
'PENNSYLVANIA TROUT FISHING SURVEY'
That was the title of a 2008 survey conducted by Responsive Management, Inc., asking anglers for their opinions about trout fishing in Pennsylvania. More specifically, it asked for anglers' views on various fishing regulations, and what they thought of the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and its programs.
One issue that will probably be considered is stocking streams that already enjoy populations of wild trout. Are there some streams out there where we should consider discontinuing stocking?
In general, Tom Greene said, most anglers are satisfied with existing regulations. So fishermen should not anticipate any major changes.
EASTERN BROOK TROUT JOINT VENTURE
Though the general angling public may not understand it the Eastern Brook Trout Joint Venture (or EBTJV) may be the most significant issue that the PFBC is presently involved in.
Brookies are the only trout species native to Pennsylvania streams and -- aside from lake trout -- are the only trout species that's native to the commonwealth. Both fish are char, members of the genus Salvelinus.
Brook trout have declined throughout their range in the eastern U.S. mainly because of
habitat degradation. Like the old-time canaries succumbing to gas in coal mines, brookies are a species that indicates the health of our water resources.
At a meeting in West Virginia in June 2004, the EBTJV was created to establish a partnership to focus on reversing declines in populations of eastern brook trout.
The partnership includes 18 states and covers an area of approximately 490,000 square miles. Accomplishments to date include a range-wide assessment of brook trout status and threats, completion of a brook trout conservation strategy, outreach products and an EBTJV Web site.
The partnership shares four range-wide objectives:
'¢ To protect and maintain the current number of watersheds with intact wild brook trout populations,
'¢ To establish self-sustaining brook trout populations in 10 percent of the watersheds where they're known to have been extirpated,
'¢ To upgrade 30 percent of the reduced watersheds by strengthening their existing current brook trout populations,
'¢ To maintain 70 percent of the reduced watersheds by curbing the decline of brook trout populations and
'¢ To determine the status of brook trout in watersheds where sufficient data are lacking.
A major part of EBTJV efforts is to increase public awareness of the brook trout problem. Without public support, all other efforts become increasingly difficult due to lack of funding.
Fortunately, the PFBC was ahead of the game. The brook trout is our official state fish. Restoring brook trout to their native waters was part of the program when the Pennsylvania Fish Commission was in its infancy. Our Brook Trout Enhancement Program is a huge step, and new watersheds are thoughtfully being added.
Cooperator projects are looking at the problem on a small scale -- the point at which large-scale planning actually turns into reality.
In the Allegheny National Forest, work is ongoing to restore those streams that were once the brook trout's native waters, one at a time.
The Cornplanter Chapter Trout Unlimited is heading a project to restore Morrison Run, a small stream east of Warren. This project includes the removal of two dams that cause thermal pollution and block the movement of fish.
Once its brook trout habitat is expanded and improved, this stream should become spawning water for wild populations of brown trout and perhaps of rainbow trout, which are already trying to migrate into Morrison Run from the Allegheny River, but are blocked by the lower dam.
Trout Unlimited and other groups continue to achieve remarkable results on many Pennsylvania streams.
The EBTJV is a long-term program. Its short-term benchmarks will be evaluated in 2012, and then at five-year intervals.
Long-term benchmarks will be set and evaluated in 2025 and then at 15-year intervals.
ACCESS TO TROUT WATERS
Several years ago, a fisheries biologist made a very simple statement to me that had a profound impact:
"A fishery," he said, "does not exist without fishermen."
A fishery consists of fish and fishermen. Though fisheries can exist on waterways where public access is not allowed, fishing as we've known it -- fishing in the American tradition -- depends on public access.
Therefore, access to our waterways is the PFBC's most basic and important goal. For many years, the issue wasn't considered that important, but now there are people who want to preserve the right to fish and to hunt for themselves, as long as they have right of way.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission has taken a proactive approach to fishing access. One of the earlier -- and finest -- examples was on some of our limestone streams, where the PFBC either owns property or has secured fishing easements.
Some of this is done in cooperation with local groups.
Properties along Lake Erie tributaries are currently being purchased. These will allow access for steelhead anglers and for other trout anglers in an area increasingly being threatened by fishing leases and private fishing clubs, which deny fishing access to everyday anglers.
The Lake Erie Conservancy has submitted a plan that would protect 4,000 feet of stream frontage along a Lake Erie tributary.
A proposed fishing easement along another tributary would make it feasible for a sportsman's group to help build a fish ladder. This would add valuable water for natural steelhead reproduction, and allow the passage of those adult trout that the club stocks for youth events.
A FEW HOT TIPS
In the Northwest Region, take a look at Tunungwant Creek if you're up to the challenge of wild brown trout fishing. This smallish creek holds a good number of big browns, but they are smarter than the average angler. This creek flows through Bradford. A Special Regulations area that includes much of the stream's wild brown trout habitat is near the village of Lewis Run off U.S. Route 219 south from Bradford.
In the North Central Region, hit the section of Kettle Creek just below the community of Cross Fork. A mile or so of it may be the best stretch -- or at least, one of the best -- in one of our finest freestone trout creeks.
In the Northeast Region, you won't want to miss spending at least some time fishing Harvey's Lake, one of relatively few two-tiered fisheries in the commonwealth.
Some of its trout grow large, and anglers have not yet mined the potential of this deep lake in northern Luzerne County west from Scranton.
The Southeast Region has surprisingly good trout fishing. The biggest story here is the rebirth of the Schuylkill River's trout fishery.
In the Schuylkill Haven area of central Schuylkill County, the creek provides a greenbelt that buffers the sounds and sights of civilization.
The South Central Region's limestone streams offer our most historic trout fishery. Who cares if its trout are smarter than we are?
To fish one of the limestones -- let's say Letort Spring Run, a small stream that flows past Carlisle in central Cumberland County -- is almost a holy pilgrimage.
Southwest Region trout anglers have a lot to choose from. My favorite is Laurel Hill Creek, a long stream flowing along the east side of Laurel Ridge through Somerset County.
Not that it's necessarily the best trout stream in the region. But when you consider its tributaries, it has just about any kind of trout fishing anyone could ask for.
GOOD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Late last su
mmer, sadly, an intentional spill of at least 40,000 gallons of crude oil made its way into a branch of Chapel Fork and into the Allegheny River.
In addition to numerous trout and other fish species, several beavers fell victim to what appears to be the work of disgruntled former employees of the oil-drilling company.
Lake Wilma in Greene County has been posted "No Trespassing," and so trout stocking has ceased there.
According to lake owner Consol Energy, its request to have oversight of structure safety and integrity transferred from the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) to Pennsylvania Dam Safety has not yet been addressed.
MSHA, enforcing its authority, has requested that Lake Wilma be posted as "No Trespassing." It has proposed an exemption that would require anyone fishing, walking on the dam or picnicking to be hazard-trained for this site and to wear appropriate safety gear -- namely, a hard hat, reflective vest, life jacket, safety glasses, boots and gloves.
Last year, on the plus side, PFBC commissioners voted to add 31 sites to the list of Approved Trout Waters Open to Year-Round Fishing. Check the regulations summary of the PFBC's Web site for a list of these specific waters.
Perhaps the most exciting recent trout-fishing news was that a new state-record golden rainbow had been certified. The 13-pound, 8-ounce trout was caught in Mahoning Creek in Schuylkill County by 12-year-old Eli Borger of Palmerton. His fish easily outweighed the previous record by nearly 2 pounds.
For more information about trout management in the commonwealth, contact the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000. Or call (717) 705-7800, or visit the agency's Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us.
For more information about traveling in the state, contact the Pennsylvania Office of Tourism, Room 404, Forum Building, Harrisburg, PA 17120. Phone (717) 232-8880, or 1-800-VISIT-PA.
Find more about Pennsylvania fishing and hunting at PAgameandfish.com