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Biggest fish can come from small waters

| Sunday, March 8, 2009

Maybe it's persistence. Maybe it's luck. Maybe it's just a desire to be on the water whenever possible.

Maybe it's all of those things and more.

Whatever the reason,

The evidence is in the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission's list of the biggest fish caught last year. It provides details on the largest five fish caught, by weight, for each species, as reported in the Senior Angler and Junior Angler award programs

There are some familiar waters on the list. Lake Erie, which always gives up more large smallmouth bass than any other water in the state, dominated again last year. Three of the biggest five smallies came from there, with the biggest a 7-pound, 12-ounce fish.

Raystown Lake once again gave up the biggest striped bass, and one of Pittsburgh's rivers, the Ohio, gave up the state's largest flathead catfish. It was a 43-inch, 37-pound, 8-ounce monster reeled in by Thomas Keiser of Wexford.

But the list also shows that some less-heralded waters gave up nice fish, too.

Tiny Mammoth Dam — a 25-acre Westmoreland County-owned lake — put two big fish on the list, for example. Both were caught by the same angler, weeks apart.

Jamie Jones of Scottdale was fishing the lake June 3 and pulled in a 3-pound, 1-ounce crappie. The 15.5-inch fish hit a spinnerbait. It was the second-largest crappie reported caught in the entire state last year.

Later, on June 21, Jones was fishing Mammoth Dam and caught a 7-pound, 1-ounce, 21.5-inch largemouth bass, the fifth biggest reported all of last year.

Jones could not be reached for comment. But Rick Lorson, area 8 fisheries manager for the Fish and Boat Commission, said it's not necessarily a shock that Mammoth Dam gave up such large fish. It's fairly fertile, he said, "so it can grow fish."

"It's maybe a little bit of a surprise for it to be two different species that way," Lorson said. "But there's always the opportunity for big fish to thrive."

The list also shows that even familiar waters can give up their biggest fish at unfamiliar times.

Mention steelhead, for example, and most people probably think of the fall months, when the runs of fish start and the crowds of anglers are heaviest. But, once again, the largest steelhead reported caught last year turned up in the spring.

Austin Greathouse of Butler was fishing Four Mile Creek on April 2 when he caught a 27.5-inch, 19-pound steelhead on skein. The teen-aged Greathouse could not be reached for comment.

The fact that he caught a fish as large as he did in the spring is not unusual, said Chuck Murray, biologist in the Fish and Boat Commission's Lake Erie research unit. The state record steelhead, a 20-pound, 3-ounce fish, was caught April 1, 2001. And the a 20-pound, 10-ounce steelhead that would have supplanted it if not for the fact that it was caught in a section of stream closed to public fishing — and so ineligible to produce a record — was caught March 25, 2004.

"So, if all of that is any indication, spring is a good time to fins big steelhead," Murray said. "It does seem like we get a lot of big fish in the spring."

Matt Hrycyk of Poor Richard's Bait and Tackle in Fairview agreed. The average steelhead caught in the spring is typically a little smaller than those caught in the fall, he said, just because the fish have been in the streams for months without doing much feeding.

But some unusually large fish turn up every March and April.

"It's weird. But there are some big ones that show up," he said.

Meaning, it seems, that if you want to catch a big fish, the best time to go fishing is whenever you can get on the water.

Big fish

Here's a look at some of the other biggest fish reported caught in 2008 across Pennsylvania, all caught by local anglers, and their rank in the top five for that species.

Largemouth bass: 7 pounds, 1.5 ounces. Caught by Cole B. Nickolls of Monongahela from Brokenstraw Creek. Ranked third.

Smallmouth bass: 7 pounds, 6 ounces. Caught by Bill Cowell from Lake Erie. Ranked third.

White bass: 1 pound, 9 ounces. Caught by Luke Painter of Trafford from Lake Erie. Ranked third.

Bluegill: 2 pounds, 2 ounces. Caught by Holly Abbott of Butler from Lake Arthur. Ranked second.

Bullhead catfish: 5 pounds. Caught by Stanley Pawlak of Pittsburgh from the Allegheny River. Ranked first.

Channel catfish: 29 pounds. Caught by Ken Schoemer of Bunola from the Monongahela River. Ranked first.

Musky: 55 pounds. Caught by Gary Cascio of Greenville from Pymatuning Lake. Ranked first.

Northern pike: 21 pounds. Caught by Shaun McGurgon of Pittsburgh from the Allegheny River. Ranked first.

Sauger: 2 pounds, 5 ounces. Caught by Rick Young of Wexford from the Ohio River. Ranked first.

Brook trout: 5 pounds, 7 ounces. Caught by Richard Waitkus of Vandergrift from Beaver Run. Ranked first.

Brown trout: 10 pounds, 2 ounces. Caught by Bill Larosa of Melcroft from Indian Creek. Ranked third.

Golden rainbow trout: 10 pounds, 7 ounces. Caught by Gary Walthour of North Huntingdon from Loyalhanna Creek. Ranked fifth.

Lake trout: 15 pounds, 8 ounces. Caught by John Millburn of Pittsburgh from Lake Erie. Ranked third.

Walleye: 12 pounds, 1 oounce. Caught by Kevin Ceraso of Lower Burrell from the Allegheny River. Ranked second.

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