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Walleye fishing expected to make comback at Pymatuning

If you're a walleye fisherman, this could be your year, particularly at Pymatuning Lake.

One of the premier walleye fisheries in Western Pennsylvania before falling on hard times in the early 2000s, the lake is poised to make a dramatic comeback, beginning this spring.

That's the word from Matthew Wolfe, a Jeannette native who now works as a fisheries biologist with the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

The division manages the lake in cooperation with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. For decades, the two agencies stocked the lake with walleye fry -- fish only about 14-inch long, or "two eyes and a wiggle" -- to good success, Wolfe said. From 1989 to 2000, those fish were surviving at tremendous rates.

Then, for reasons unknown, those stockings just quit working.

Whereas pre-2001 biologists doing fall young-of-the-year surveys had captured as many as 120 juvenile walleyes per hour, between 2001 and 2007 they reached 30 per hour -- the minimum needed to sustain a good fishery -- just once. In one year, the found no juvenile walleyes at all, Wolfe said.

That showed up as poor fishing. Surveys done between 1982 and 2000 showed that it took an angler, on average, about one and a half hours to catch one Pymatuning walleye. By 2004, that had risen to seven hours; by 2007, 30 hours.

But that was the "old" Pymatuning.

The "changed" Pymatuning, the one that's resulted since the two states began stocking fewer but bigger walleye fingerlings in the lake as of 2008, is poised for a breakout, Wolfe said.

Lake surveys done last fall revealed that 87 percent of the walleyes are four years old or younger. They'll start showing up as legal-sized fish in big numbers this year, Wolfe said.

"You're still going to have the chance to catch some trophy fish up there, fish 24, 25, up to 30 inches. There are still a lot of those fish there," Wolfe said.

"But 87 percent of your fish are going to be 18 inches or less."

Anglers who fished the lake last year know the walleyes are back, numbers-wise, Wolfe said. Surveys showed catch rates had improved, so that anglers were back to needing only 90 minutes to boat a walleye.

But this year many more of those short fish will be legal.

"The number of fish 15 to 18 inches should exceed a lot of people's expectations this year. The Pymatuning walleye is on its way back. There's hope for the future and hope for the fishery."

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