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Weather could be good for spring

| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 12:01 a.m.

This has been a tough winter for ice fishermen.

We've had wild, seemingly constant swings from periods of cold weather to — just days later — temperatures well above freezing. That's really put the kibosh on nature's ability to make ice.

If you've traveled to a local lake and seen a sheet of ice floating in its center but none reaching the shore — or worse, seen an ice fisherman walk out onto a lake, drill a hole, and scurry back because it was much thinner than expected — you know what I mean.

“We haven't really had good ice all winter, in my opinion. And sooner rather than later it will be gone for good,” said Patti Poff of Poff's Place in Espyville, a bait shop on the shore of Pymatuning Lake.

Some waters have been better than others. High Point Lake in Somerset County has had lots of ice. But things have been more hit and miss across the rest of the region.

That may lead to better fishing in the long run, though.

Take Pymatuning Lake, for example. Last year was a great one for spring and summer fishing there. Anglers did well on walleyes and even more so on crappies, with some of the best catches seen in years.

That may have been because the lake didn't have much ice last winter, said Tim Wilson, a biologist with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission based in Linesville.

“That may have led to a pretty good holdover of fish that would have otherwise been harvested through the ice but weren't,” Wilson said. “The fish that the ice guys would have taken home were still swimming come spring.”

This year's lack of ice might produce a similar warm-season bonanza.

Or maybe not. Even if fish are plentiful, they might be out of reach.

Last spring, biologists found more bass in Pymatuning Lake surveys than ever before, Wilson said.

“But with all of the dry weather we had, and how low the lake got, those bass were very difficult to catch. The usual places you might expect to have found them were either exposed or very shallow,” Wilson said.

Maybe those fish, which survived the summer then escaped anglers again this winter, will be there, and accessible, this year.

A reader writes

Word that bald eagle populations are doing so well in Pennsylvania that the Game Commission might take them off the state's endangered list prompted Jeff Cochran to share some sightings he's experienced.

“For the past three years, fishing on the second day of trout season I have spotted a bald eagle while fishing at Loyalhanna Creek. I fish the Loyalhanna from April to mid-June in just about every stretch, but only see the eagle in one area, near Darlington, on that particular week,” said the Adamsburg resident.

Cochran said a local certified bird expert told him the eagle likely is migrating and using the Loyalhanna area as a resting area.

Maybe that's a good sign.

Dan Brauning, head of the Game Commission's wildlife diversity section, has said that southwestern Pennsylvania is the one corner of the state that mostly has not seen eagles take up residence. But with birds spotted in Allegheny, Butler and Cambria counties this winter, maybe that's changing.

Bob Frye is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at bfrye@tribweb.com or via Twitter @bobfryeoutdoors.

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