Commission considers halting trout program
How far in advance of trout season's opening day can you stock fish and still give anglers a positive experience when it finally arrives?
That's a question the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission may try answer on local lakes.
Looking to free space in its hatcheries and, even more importantly, make sure that stocked streams still have their fish come opening day, the commission may eliminate its early season trout-stocked waters program. It lets anglers enjoy trout fishing in 47 waters statewide — at least 28 of them in Western Pennsylvania, including such popular lakes as Upper and Lower Twin lakes, North Park Lake, and Northmoreland Lake — throughout March.
Elimination of the program likely would lead to the prohibition of any March fishing at seven of those waters, those that hold trout and little else, said Leroy Young, director of the commission's bureau of fisheries.
The other 40 — which hold significant populations of warmwater fish — could be switched to another program that allows year-round trout fishing. He said there would be no harvest allowed from March 1 to opening day.
The benefit of making the switch is that it would allow the commission to give those lakes their last preseason trout stocking in March, rather than the first two weeks of April, as is the case now, said Dave Miko, chief of the commission's division of fisheries management.
That could be good for two reasons, he said.
First, removing more fish from the commission's hatcheries earlier would provide additional room and lessen the stress on the fish that remain, Miko said. Secondly, stocking the lakes — from which trout can't escape — earlier would allow the commission to stock streams later.
That's a consideration because recent surveys have shown that trout released into streams often swim away — after they've been nurtured to adulthood over the course of a year at great expense — before anglers ever get a chance to catch them. Some streams have seen 80 percent or more of their fish disappear prior to opening day.
"This would allow us to stock those streams where we've encountered residency problems closer to the opener," Miko said.
There is, Miko admitted, one potential problem with the plan. While stocking the 47 waters in the program earlier would give anglers more trout to fish over in March, some could die before opening day because of hooking mortality and other factors.
Commissioner Bill Sabatose of Jefferson County worries that if too many fish are lost that way, fishermen will have a poor experience on opening day, by far the biggest fishing day of the year.
"That would be the rub," he said. "If they go out there and don't catch any fish, they're not going to have a good time and we're going to hear about it."
The commission already has stocked fish earlier in the year in Frances Slocum Lake in Luzerne County without experiencing that problem, though, Young said.
As a result, commission staff may recommend giving the change preliminary approval in April, Young said. That would allow time for public comment. The earliest the rule change could go into effect would be 2010.
"The staff sees some significant upside to being able to stock streams closer to opening day," Young said.
Waters in the early-season trout stocked waters program now include:
• North Park Lake in Allegheny County
• Bradys Run Lake, Lower Hereford Manor Lake, and Raccoon Creek Lake in Beaver County
• Glade Run Lake and Harbor Acres Lake in Butler County
• Duman Lake and Lake Rowena in Cambria County
• Dunlap Creek Lake and Virgin Run Lake in Fayette County
• Bessemer Lake in Lawrence County
• The Shenango River tail race in Mercer County
• The Youghiogheny River tailrace and laurel Hill Lake in Somerset County
• Justus Lake in Venango County
• Canonsburg Lake in Washington County
• Donegal Lake, Keystone Lake, Mammoth Dam, Northmoreland Lake, Upper Twin Lake and Lower Twin Lake in Westmoreland County
Note: The only Western Pennsylvania waters in the program that would be closed to March fishing under the new proposal are Upper Gravel Pit in Erie County and Bradford City Number Three Reservoir in McKean County.