Outdoors notebook: Bigger flatheads growing elsewhere

Bob Frye
| Sunday, May 11, 2014, 10:00 p.m.

Western Pennsylvania long has been home to Pennsylvania's biggest catfish.

Maybe no more.

Unless and until blue catfish become a staple, flatheads represent the biggest catfish species around. They're native to the Ohio River drainage and were always caught in the largest sizes here.

The Susquehanna River gave up four of the five largest flatheads reported to the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission last year, though, including the biggest of them all, a 47-pound, 1-ounce fish. That's a trend that likely will continue, say biologists with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission.

Flatheads aren't native to the Susquehanna. They were only discovered there in 2006.

But when a non-native species enters a new watershed without natural predators, disease or parasites, populations tend to explode and individual fish tend to grow faster than normal, said Geoff Smith, the commission's Susquehanna River biologist. That's what is going on with flatheads in the Susquehanna, he said.

That's not to say there's no potential for a record locally. Researchers from Cal (Pa.) netted a 50-pound flathead during sampling on the Ohio River in 2005. That would have been a state record.

There are old fish here, too.

Biologists pulled a 33-year-old flathead from the Allegheny near Highland Park, and a 32-year-old fish from the Monongahela, said commission three rivers biologist Bob Ventorini.

The oldest flathead on record anywhere was 34 years old, Ventorini said. He thinks Pittsburgh's rivers might top that.

But Smith is convinced the next state record will come from the Susquehanna. Ventorini is not sure he can disagree.

“A lot of anglers I talk to, they want to bring the record back to the Ohio River drainage, their native range. But I don't know,” Ventorini said. “It might happen, but I don't know.”

Outdoor survey

Pennsylvania's outdoorsmen and women are being asked to complete a survey about what's important to them.

The results of the online survey, which takes about five minutes to complete, will be used to develop the next “Statewide Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan.” It will guide decisions on what parks, facilities and recreational activities the state should invest money in between 2014 and 2018.

The survey will tell whether residents want more money invested in things like fishing and boating, off-road biking or something else. It can be found at www.surveymonkey.com/s/paoutdoorrec.

A draft of the plan resulting from the survey will be available for review this summer.

Semiauto rifles

Currently, hunters can use semiautomatic shotguns to hunt small game. Semiautomatic rifles are illegal, however.

One state lawmaker wants to change that.

State Rep. Greg Lucas of Crawford County is seeking co-sponsors for House Bill 2230. It would legalize the use of semiautomatic rifles, caliber .22 or smaller, for hunting coyotes, foxes and groundhogs.

“I believe this reasonable change in the law to allow such rifles with limited calibers and cartridge capacity would benefit landowners, livestock owners and hunters in the Commonwealth …,” Lucas said in a memo sent to other legislators.

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

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