Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission looks to create premium trout fishing opportunities
Pine Creek is going on the road.
Not the stream itself, of course. But the experience of fishing it.
The creek flows through Potter, Tioga and Lycoming counties. It's stocked with trout over more than 50 miles.
There's a 2.8-mile stretch of it, from Slate Run downstream to Bonnell Run, that stands out, though. It's stocked by a group of sportsmen known as the Brown Trout Club. This year, it put in $18,000 worth of trout measuring from 14 to almost 30 inches.
Anglers can fish for them year-round, under all tackle, catch and release regulations.
The big fish have, by all accounts, proven a draw, bringing in fishermen willing to spend money on tackle, food, gas, lodging and more in return for the chance to catch a monster trout.
“This is not a world-class fishery. The trout would have to be wild and naturally reproducing for that,” said Tom Finkbiner, owner of Slate Run Tackle shop and founder of the trout club.
“But it is a world-class fishing experience.”
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission wants to recreate that at eight points across the state.
Each year, the agency stocks 33,000 “trophy trout” — brooks, browns and rainbows — ranging in size from 14 to 20 inches in waters across Pennsylvania. They go in at a density of five to 10 fish per stream mile.
Starting next spring, the commission plans to stock 3,300 of those fish — 10 percent of the total — in just eight stream sections, each about one to two miles long, at a density of about 250 trout per mile.
The intent is to replicate the kind of trophy fishery that's proven so popular on Pine Creek, said Leroy Young, director of the commission's bureau of fisheries. Anglers should have a 25- to 50-times greater chance of landing a big fish on these waters than they would on others elsewhere in the state, he added.
“We're excited about this. We want to provide anglers with an opportunity to fish high-density waters for larger trout compared to the typical 11-inch fish,” Young said.
“It's quality, not quantity.”
The stream sections that will get the fish haven't been determined. Young said the commission wants to pick ones that are open along their entire length to public fishing, meaning those crossing public land may be good candidates. But commissioners won't announce the chosen streams until their Sept. 28-29 meeting in Erie.
Each of the eight commissioner districts will get one trophy water.
That would, for example, put one within the Butler, Clarion, Crawford, Erie, Forest, Lawrence, Mercer, Venango and Warren cluster known as District 1; another in the Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Fayette, Greene, Indiana, Washington and Westmoreland cluster known as District 2; and another in the Bedford, Blair, Cambria, Fulton, Huntingdon, Juniata, Mifflin and Somerset cluster known as District 4.
All of the chosen stream sections will be waters currently managed under delayed harvest, artificial lures only regulations, too, Young said. Those rules limit harvest at certain times of year and prohibit the use of bait. They allow for year-round fishing, though.
Young hopes that will alleviate concerns about the big fish drawing crowds so large as to be harmful or unpleasant.
“There shouldn't be a sort of opening-day effect. I don't think it will be a circus,” he said.
“The point is to give everyone a couple of months to fish for these trout,” said commission president Ed Mascharka of Erie County.
The fact that so many big fish will be going into such relatively little water is important, though, said commissioner Bill Sabatose of Elk County.
“So you should be able to notice it,” he said.
Anglers on other waterways won't be shortchanged, Young said. All of the waters statewide that have been getting trophy fish will continue to get almost as many as ever. They'll just get about one less per mile than previously, he said.
“I doubt we could detect that, and I doubt anglers will be able to detect it,” Young said.
That's important, said commissioner Rocco Ali of North Apollo. He likes the new program, he said, in part because it will provide a benefit without simultaneously causing harm.
“I think it gives delayed harvest anglers, or anglers willing to fish those waters, more opportunity. But I don't think it's going to hurt the general fisherman, which is important to me,” Ali said.
The idea of creating “premium” trout waters has been around since 2008, Young said. That it's finally launching next year is fitting, commission executive director John Arway said.
Much like how the West Virginia Division of Natural Resources first stocked golden rainbow trout — then called palominos — in 1963, in honor of the state's 100th anniversary, the commission is going to launch its trophy trout program next year, when it's celebrating its 150th anniversary, he said.
The potential of the program is what's really exciting, though, he said.
“These programs have successfully demonstrated that destination fisheries can be created, drawing anglers from across the state, and even the country, and providing an economic boost to local communities,” Arway said.
Young said the commission will evaluate the program as time goes on, measuring angler use and economics, to see if they're doing all that's hoped.