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Anglers flock to Lake Oneida

| Sunday, June 20, 2010

Visit Lake Oneida on any nice weekend and you'll have plenty of company.

The 142 acre lake just northeast of Butler off Route 38 is a water-supply reservoir owned by Pennsylvania American Water. There are no picnic tables around its shores, no pavilions, no obvious amenities that would attract visitors.

But there are fish. Plenty of them. And do they draw a crowd.

Just more than a year after Oneida - and nearby Thorn Run Reservoir -- was reopened to public fishing, it's drawing big crowds of anglers on a regular basis.

"There are people coming and going all the time," said Jonathan Kay, a waterways conservation officer in Butler County for the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. "If you drive around the lake, and stop to talk to all of the people there, by the time you get back to the start, there's a whole new crowd there.

"And when it comes to the crappie fishing in particular, some of those guys just leave with bucketfuls of fish. It's great to see."

The lakes historically had been open to public fishing prior to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11. They were then closed for safety reasons.

Pennsylvania American reopened them last June, however, and has had no problems since. In fact, all of the anglers who use the lakes help the water company in at least one way, said Kevin Mortimer, Pennsylvania American's production supervisor.

"They keep an eye out for us. They probably know more about what goes on out there than we do because they're out there every day," he said.

Those casting their lines into Lake Oneida in particular know, too, that there's some good fishing to be had. That was confirmed officially when biologists from the commission's area 1 office in Linesville surveyed Lake Oneida earlier this year and found "some pretty nice fish," said fisheries biologist Tim Wilson.

It's loaded with quality-size bluegills, with more than four out of five exceeding 7 inches in length. It's got decent numbers of black and white crappies, too, with the whites being the larger of the two on average. More than half of those exceeded 10 inches. Biologists handled one that was 2 pounds and 16 inches in length.

Big channel catfish were also found swimming in the lake.

The lake holds large numbers of largemouth bass, as well. They tend to be on the smaller side, though. Crews handled one 22-inch bass, but most were much shorter.

"We had a whole bunch of fish up to 12 inches and not a lot of bigger ones," Wilson said. "Sometimes, that suggests angler harvest might be an issue. That might make the lake a candidate for some kind of regulations package, like Big Bass regulations, to produce bigger fish, depending on how the water company feels and the opinion of our officers and anglers there."

Anglers should have the opportunity to enjoy that, and the fishing at Oneida, for some time to come.

The agreement between Pennsylvania American and the Fish and Boat Commission calls for keeping the two lakes open to public fishing for five years. That deal automatically rolls over into perpetuity, however, unless one side or the other terminates it.

For its part, Pennsylvania American has no thoughts of closing the lakes again, said Gary Lobaugh, its manager of external affairs.

"As long as we're able to ensure the safety of our drinking water, they will remain open," he said. "That's our first concern, the water supply. But if we can maintain that and partner with the Fish and Boat Commission to the benefit of anglers, we're glad to do that for the community."

The commission is committed to doing whatever is necessary to keeping the lakes open, too, Kay added.

That means enforcing the special rules in place. Littering is prohibited, for example, as is all boating, wading and swimming. Fishing is limited to dawn to dusk, and anglers must park in the designated parking areas. Alcohol is prohibited, as are fires and camping.

Anglers are not permitted on the dams, the spillways or the "dragon's teeth" below them either.

"Basically, you can't be anywhere that there's concrete," Kay said.

Anglers who follow those rules can enjoy good fishing, though, he added. And plenty do.

"We get a lot of locals, and a fair influx of people from Pittsburgh every weekend," he said. "It's a win-win. People get to fish and, because they know it's a drinking-water source, they always have their eyes open."

Additional Information:

Trout anglers

The reopening of Lake Oneida has helped trout anglers.

The outflow of the lake is Connoquenessing Creek. The deal with Pennsylvania American Water to open its lakes includes the portion of the stream on its property as well, so the commission now stocks trout as far up as the spillway.

That means anglers can fish for warmwater fish in the lake, then switch to trout in the afternoon, or vice versa, said commission conservation officer Jonathan Kay.

And don't overlook Thorn Run Reservoir, either. A 40-acre water company lake located near Oneida, it was reopened to public fishing last year, too. The Fish and Boat Commission has not surveyed its fish populations yet. That may come as early as next year, Kay said.

In the meantime, though, it offers some good fishing, too, albeit of a different kind.

'Not as many people fish that because access is a little more difficult. You can't just park your car and walk 10 feet to shore. You have to hike back in and find places to fish,' he said.

'But if you're looking to spend a quiet evening and enjoy a little solitude and catch some fish, Thorn Run is the place to do it. You can find a nice shady spot and just fish the afternoon away.'

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