Monday, February 6th, 2023
Monday, February 6th, 2023

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PF&BC to track disappearing trout

By Deborah Weisberg Contributing Writer

Harrisburg — The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission will
begin surveying select streams March 20 to see if a problem with
disappearing trout is a northeast region quirk or is happening in
other parts of the state.

With bigger – but 800,000 fewer – fish being raised for next
year, the commission will use its findings to help make decisions
about future stockings, and whether to remove some streams from its
list, according to Rick Lorson, the commission’s southwest region
biologist, who is leading the statewide survey.

Agency personnel will electro-shock about 20 streams in each
region beginning 10 days after they are stocked in the weeks
leading up to opening day. They also will conduct opening day
angler counts on 80 streams statewide, mostly where angler use
appears to be on the decline, according to Tom Greene, the
commission’s top coldwater biologist.

Problems with trout movement first surfaced in the northeast
corner of the state five years ago when anglers complained about
fish disappearing just days after they were stocked in Wayne,
Bradford and Susquehanna counties. In response, the commission last
year tagged 4,600 trout and wired 25 trout on Wysox and Tunkhannock
creeks so it could track their movements.

Just six tagged fish remained within the stocked streams, and
one “wired” trout was tracked as far as 122 miles away before its
signal was lost, according to Greene. “We want to see if this is
just a regional thing, or widespread,” he said. “If we see a
pattern, we’ll need to do further studies and make some
changes.”

Those could include opening more streams to a special catch-
and-release season in March, postponing some stockings until the
eve of opening day, and trimming the stocking list, Lorson
explained. ”With fewer trout to stock, everything will be less.
We’ll need to do a better job with the waters we have,” he said.
“We have to look at the best opportunities for using fish and
getting them to where anglers are.”

Any number of factors could cause trout to disappear, from water
quality and habitat, to certain strains of hatchery fish not
adapting well to late-winter water temperatures, “to things we
can’t do anything about,” Lorson said. Last year’s northeast
Pennsylva-nia studies showed that rainbows were the first to move
out, followed by browns and then brook trout.

More than half of next year’s stock will be rainbow trout, with
brown and brook trout numbers decreasing even more over the next
two years. By 2008, brookies will constitute just 12 percent of
hatchery production, and browns, 21 percent, according to
commission data.

Although streams and lakes next year are slated to receive trout
that are 30 percent larger – averaging two-thirds of a pound each –
they also will receive 20 percent fewer fish, since hatchery output
is based on total poundage. Instead of 4.2 million trout, anglers
can expect 3.8 million trout for the state’s 1,084 stream miles and
124 lakes.

Greene said data from the electro-shocking study would be
analyzed by late summer, so the commission can plan future
allocations. It also will factor in public access, parking, and
human population densities, since anglers prefer fishing within 30
miles of home, Lorson said.

The commission regards any changes to its trout program as
crucial, since it sells the bulk of its fishing licenses in spring,
in anticipation of opening day. Though the commission stocks for
year-round angling, it believes opening day is still its biggest
draw.

”We don’t want to move away from opening day, because we’ve
found that 10 times the number of people fish opening day than any
other time of year,” Lorson said.

In fact, the commission is now considering designating a second
opening day next year as early as April 1 for the southeast and
southcentral parts of the state, where water temperatures warm more
quickly, Lorson said. “On our waters in the southwest, we can
expect good fishing up to Memorial Day, whereas in the southeast,
it’s usually only good to the middle of May.”

As for this year’s trout allocations, the commission is not
disclosing numbers for individual lakes and streams. Lorson said it
is because variables such as stream size can make numbers seem
misleading.

For anglers who prefer targeting wild trout, the commission has
added 11 stream sections – a total of 30 miles – of new water to
its Class A Wild Trout list. The stream sections are in Clinton,
Columbia, Cumberland, Clear-field, Luzerne, Potter, Tioga, and
Schuylkill counties, all in the northcentral and northeastern parts
of the state.

The commission defines Class A wild trout waters as streams
supporting enough naturally reproducing trout of a good enough size
to support a long-term sport fishery.

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