Anglers barely noticed Pennsylvania's trout hatchery woes last year, and more trout are slated for stocking in 2004. Here's a look at what's in store for Keystone State coldwater fishermen this season.
By Mike Bleech
Following a temporary large reduction in trout stocking quotas for the 2002 season due to changes in water quality standards, Pennsylvania's stocking numbers rose slightly last year. This was accomplished by stocking slightly smaller trout, and it will be the pattern again this year.
There will be additional trout available for stocking from other sources, so even though the state's trout hatchery system is under severe stress, trout anglers barely notice this blip in one of the best trout management programs in the country.
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's popular "put-and-take" trout program was reduced from 5.2 million fish in 2001 to 3.8 million trout in 2002 because new water quality regulations forced hatcheries to reduce production. In 2003, about 4.1 million trout were stocked during the regular stocking program. This was accomplished by raising trout to 10 inches, or about 1/2 pound, which is slightly smaller than the trout raised for stocking the previous year. Limitations on hatchery production are based on biomass (pounds of fish), not on the actual number of trout. By raising slightly smaller trout, more trout can be raised.
This year, the same strategy will be used to produce about 4 million trout in the state hatcheries. These trout will be distributed pre-season and in-season. Most in-season stocking is done during the first several weeks after the regular statewide trout season opens in mid-April. Additional fish are stocked during fall and winter.
More trout will come from other sources, including a commercial hatchery.
Photo by J. Michael Kelly
"We've got a contract in place now," said Dan Tredinnick, press secretary for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "The low bidder was an outfit out of North Carolina. We're going to purchase about 100,000 trout from them."
According to Richard Snyder, head of the Fish and Boat Commission's Fisheries Management Division, "Those fish will be stocked in lakes. The company already sells trout in Pennsylvania, so they are familiar with us."
All of these trout will have been tested in Pennsylvania for PCBs.
Most, if not all, of the trout from the North Carolina commercial hatchery will be rainbows and may be stocked throughout the year.
"We expect to have around 4.2 million trout, including about 100,000 fish from the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery," Snyder said.
An agreement was reached last year with the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery, which is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The main purpose of this hatchery, which is at the base of the Kinzua Dam in Warren County, has been raising lake trout for Lake Erie and Lake Ontario. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service policy requires that only native fish may be raised, so all of the trout raised for inland stocking will be brook trout that will be stocked into Allegheny National Forest trout streams. These fish will replace trout from state hatcheries that would normally have been stocked in the national forest, freeing them to be stocked elsewhere.
Upgrades planned for the Allegheny National Fish Hatchery might increase quotas to 300,000 brook trout in the future.
"We're excited about the possibilities," Snyder said. "We expect to have a few new waters for the program."
Among the new waters will be the tailwaters of Tionesta Dam in Forest County, and the tailwaters of Mahoning Dam in Armstrong County.
"We're working with the staffs at those facilities to see if anglers take advantage of the opportunity," Snyder said.
The reason these places were chosen is that they are public facilities in areas that can handle a lot of people. These tailwaters areas also have reliably good water flows at temperatures suitable for trout.
"We're not talking about thousands and thousands of trout to begin with. We're going to start out slowly," Snyder cautioned.
According to Tom Greene, Coldwater Unit leader for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, the following lakes and streams sections will also be added to the catchable trout-stocking program:
- A one-mile stretch of the Delaware Canal in Upper Washington Crossing State Park.
- Upper Hereford Manor Lake in Beaver County.
- The lower three miles of White Deer Creek in Union County from Interstate Route 80 to the mouth.
- Lake Jean in Luzerne County.
- The lower two miles of Aquashicola Creek in Carbon County.
- The lower 1.1-mile section of the Little Schuylkill River in Schuylkill County.
- A one-mile section of Neshaminy Creek where it flows through Tyler State Park in Bucks County.
- A 3/4-mile section of the Little Juniata River in Blair County about eight miles upstream from the section which is stocked with fingerlings.
- In-season stockings will be added to Cool Lake in Bedford County.
- A preseason stocking at Upper Twin Lakes in Westmoreland County, which is already stocked during the fall.
COOPERATIVE NURSERIES Not included in stocking figures released by the Fish and Boat Commission are trout raised in and stocked by cooperative nurseries. These nurseries are sponsored by organized sportsmen's groups that are responsible for constructing the nurseries, their maintenance and operations.
Eggs, fry or fingerling trout are provided to the co-op nurseries by the Fish and Boat Commission, which also provides technical assistance and guidance.
"The co-ops are anticipating stocking 1 million trout on top of that (4.2 million)," Tredinnick said. "They typically do 250,000 trout pre-season, and 750,000 trout during the in-season stockings."
Co-ops raise the trout to catchable size and then stock them with some direction by the Fish and Boat Commission, but with some latitude.
"Many of the waters the co-ops stock wouldn't necessarily qualify for stocking under PFBC guidelines, but they don't have the same boundaries. As long as the fish go into waters that are open to public fishing, it's OK with us," Tredinnick said.
Pennsylvania's first cooperative nursery was initiated in 1932, but the current program began in 1965 when the position of Cooperative Nursery Coordinator
was established. Today, there are 172 cooperative nurseries operating in all but 17 counties. Most of these cooperatives raise trout.
For more information about the Cooperative Nursery Program, contact the commission's coordinator Cecil Houser at email@example.com or call him at (814) 359-5124.
NORTHCENTRAL REGION Last year, the Fish and Boat Commission voted to create a new category of special regulations aimed at enhancing wild brook trout populations. This program is a result of public comments made at the 2002 Trout Summit
Select waters and their tributaries will be managed for catch-and-release fishing only for all wild brook trout. There are no special tackle restrictions and year-round brook trout fishing will be allowed. Regular statewide regulations still apply when fishing for brown trout and rainbow trout.
The first place this program has been instituted is the Upper Kettle Creek basin in Tioga and Potter counties. The commission plans to place signs along the watershed showing anglers how to identify brook trout and how to release them unharmed.
"We were looking for several miles of streams or watersheds," Snyder explained. "There are about 28 miles in the program. We're hoping that by early 2004 we can go to other clubs and groups to look at other streams."
A key to making these special regulations do their job is long stream sections.
"If you put these regulations on just a mile or two, any influence can be negated by migrating trout," Snyder said.
The program is also being considered for Tubbs Run and Minister Creek in Forest County, Birch Run and Lyman Run in Potter County, Cooks Run in Cameron County, North Branch Buffalo Creek in Union County, West Branch Fishing Creek in Sullivan County, Mill Brook in Pike County, Shaeffer Run in Perry County and Camp Run in Westmoreland County.
FINGERLING PROGRAM While the Fish and Boat Commission's put-and-take trout-stocking program is well known even outside Pennsylvania, its fingerling trout- stocking program is done more quietly. While fingerling trout have been stocked for nearly as long as the Fish Commission has existed, the current program has only been in place for about two decades and stocking figures are not widely publicized. These trout are not yet large enough to be creeled when they are stocked. As a result, fishing pressure tends to be lower and is spread out more through the season.
The fingerling trout program, also known as "put-grow-and-take," has yielded some of the finest trout fisheries in the state, including the Little Juniata River and the section of the Allegheny River extending for several miles below the Kinzua Dam. Other success stories include the Allegheny Reservoir, the Youghiogheny River, Bald Eagle Creek and Tulpehocken Creek below Blue Marsh Dam.
Fingerling trout have also been used to restore trout populations in streams that are recovering from pollution. One example is the Schuylkill River from Middleport downstream to State Game Lands 286 near Schuylkill Haven, where fingerling brook trout have been stocked for a couple of years, and downriver, where fingerling browns have been stocked.
Fingerlings are generally put into streams that are so large that the return rates in put-and-take trout are low. The main requirement is that they are suitable to hold trout year 'round. Most fingerling trout that are planned for stocking are either browns or rainbows, because most of the waters in this program are too large and too warm to support brook trout.
When surplus brook trout fingerlings are available, which often happens, they are generally stocked into the Allegheny Reservoir, East Branch Clarion River Lake, Keystone Lake and Beaverdam Run Reservoir. Success rates are low, however, for this species.
Last year, area fisheries managers requested 723,700 brown trout fingerlings and 284,600 rainbow trout fingerlings. With the addition of the excess brook trout fingerlings, the total of fingerlings stocked amounted to about 1,833,000 trout last year.
This year, area fisheries managers have requested 1,093,100 fingerlings. This breaks down to 2,500 brook trout, 764,850 brown trout and 325,750 rainbow trout. The brook trout requested will be stocked into Big Spring Creek.
Premium fingerlings, trout that are about 6 inches in length, are stocked during fall. Surplus fingerlings are stocked during spring, when they are 2 to 4 inches in length. Survival rates for spring fingerlings are not nearly as good as for fall fingerlings.
Stocking fingerling trout is much less expensive than stocking legal- size trout. Rather than being fed in hatcheries, nature takes care of feeding them. In fertile waters like the Allegheny River, growth rates are excellent. Anglers frequently catch trout in the 4- to 8-pound range here. Growth rates are much slower in less fertile waters such as the Youghiogheny River, but it is still more cost effective to stock fingerlings than to stock larger trout.
"Sometimes we don't know the numbers until we see how many fish we have on hand," Tredinnick explained.
Often, many more trout are stocked than was originally planned because trout are stocked on an availability basis. Many of the fingerlings are excess trout, and those numbers cannot be anticipated.
Cooperative nurseries generally are the first priority for these fish. If conditions are poor at the co-op nurseries causing loss of fish, they are re-supplied with fingerlings. If water conditions in the co-op nurseries are good, as they were last year, there are excess fingerlings available.
In some cases, excess trout fingerlings are stocked into marginal waters rather than let them go to waste. Typically, 250,000 to more than 500,000 excess fingerlings become available.
"There's a lot of leeway there," Greene said. "Many fish are shipped in April before we have too many fish in the hatcheries taking up space, and a good portion of those are brook trout."
Snyder expects that the successful fingerling-stocking program will continue to expand.
LAKE ERIE SALMON One of the great experiments in Pennsylvania coldwater fisheries is quietly coming to an end. In the mid-1960s, Pennsylvania started stocking salmon into Lake Erie to help control the alewife population. In 1985, the state and co-op nurseries stocked 748,340 chinook salmon and 1,181,125 coho salmon, a total of nearly 2 million salmon. Last year, 60,000 coho salmon were stocked into Lake Erie. Those are the last salmon the Fish and Boat Commission plans to stock.
Though salmon fishing was once popular in Lake Erie, the fishing was considered inferior to Lake Erie or Lake Michigan and the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission determined that the sal
mon program was not a good investment of angler dollars.
"We just never got a return on them," Snyder said. "The steelhead has been a much better fish in returns. It's more economical and a better program."
At the same time that Pennsylvania's Lake Erie salmon program was winding down, the steelhead program was steadily improving. Steelhead provide a nearly year-round fishery. During summer, they are available to offshore anglers in larger boats, as were the salmon. But, unlike the salmon, they also provide good fishing in tributaries from September through the following May. Plus, they do not always die after spawning.
Only 39,500 steelhead were stocked in 1977, but by 1980, that number had climbed to 443,000 steelhead. Now more than twice that number of fish are stocked each year.
About 1.1 million steelhead were stocked last year.
"The target is always a million fish. We're generally pretty close to that target each year," Tredinnick said.
When the statewide trout season opens this spring, anglers should find a mix of steelhead and put-and-take brown trout in the Lake Erie tributaries.
Lake Erie also provides a good fishery for lake trout. Lake trout were native to the lake, but were eliminated by poor water quality and predation by sea lampreys. For several years, the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission, along with the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, have been working to establish a self-sustaining population of lake trout.
So far, this has met with little success. However, fishing for lake trout has been improving. A new Pennsylvania record lake trout, 27 pounds, 13 ounces, was caught in 1996; and last summer, a lake trout that weighed 41 pounds, 8 ounces set a record for New York. It was caught in Lake Erie just a few miles of Pennsylvania. Certainly, there are lake trout of this class in the Pennsylvania portion of the lake.
All of the lake trout currently being stocked into Lake Erie are put in the New York side of the lake, but this is close to Pennsylvania, and the fish know nothing of state borders.
For more information about the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's trout programs, contact the PFBC at P.O. Box 67000, 1601 Elmerton Avenue, Harrisburg, PA 17106-7000; call (717) 705-7800, or visit the agency's Web site at www.fish.state.pa.us.
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