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Pymatuning the place for walleye

The walleye fishing at Pymatuning Lake this year has been, by all accounts, pretty good.

That's the good news. The better news is that the fishery seems to be on the upswing overall, thanks to a change in strategy.

Two years ago, concerned that very few sublegal walleyes -- the fish that would replace the ones being harvested now -- were showing up in trap nets or anglers' creels, biologists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and Ohio Division of Natural Resources began stocking Pymatuning not only with walleye fry, as had been tradition, but with 500,000 walleye fingerlings annually, too.

The result has been two very strong year classes of young walleyes and renewed hope for the future of the fishery.

"I won't say things are going to go back to where they were before, where everybody could come to Pymatuning and catch walleyes all day," said Tim Wilson, a fisheries biologist in the commission's Area 1 office in Linesville.

"But the fishing should be better. Anglers can catch quite a few and, starting next year, a lot more of those fish should be a hair over 15 inches rather than a hair under."

Anglers have noticed the smaller walleyes in their catches, said Linda Unger of Chris' Tackle Box in Jamestown. That's change from the recent past, she said.

"Oh, definitely. They've been getting a lot of young ones. Especially in the spring, that was true," Unger said.

That doesn't mean there is a shortage of big walleyes in the lake by any means. Wilson and his crews surveyed Pymatuning in the spring. Their report of that work -- just released in late August -- shows that, despite unseasonably warm temperatures that hurt their catch, they still handled 488 walleyes. Of those, 76 percent were over the 15-inch minimum size limit, 59 percent were longer than 20 inches and 10 percent were longer than 24 inches.

But it's the juvenile fish of the last two years that are the big news. The stocking of fingerlings seems to be working, and both states have committed to continuing it for the foreseeable future, he said.

In the meantime, those walleyes of the last two years range in size from 7 to 14 inches right now, but "fish grow pretty fast in Pymatuning," so they should start to be legal as soon as next spring.

"We've got a couple of good year classes and lots of young fish," he said. "The fishing should really pick up over the next couple of years, at least for walleyes."

Survey reveals healthy populations

The Fish and Boat Commission's survey of Pymatuning Lake turned up some nice catches of fish besides walleyes, too.

Biologists caught just an average number of muskies, but they were impressive, with one stretching 50 inches.

"We've got tons of muskies up here," said commission fisheries biologist Tim Wilson. "This remains one of the best lakes in Pennsylvania for muskies."

The catch rate for black crappies, meanwhile, was the best ever recorded and "extremely impressive." The fish ranged up to 13 inches.

Channel cats are also abundant and big in the lake. About one third of those handled by biologists exceeded 20 inches and 10 percent exceeded 24.

The lake also produced decent numbers of bluegills up to 8 inches and good numbers of yellow perch up to 11.

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