PF&BC trout plan update scrutinized

Harrisburg – The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is
about to kick off the job of updating its trout-management plan.
But it’s getting some ideas already.

The agency will hold the first day-long meeting of its new
trout-management working group Nov. 17 at its Stackhouse facility
in Centre County. Details on exactly who will sit on the board
weren’t available at press time, but it will involve sportsmen,
Fish & Boat commissioners and agency staff.

In the coming months, the agency also will hold several public
meetings to talk to sportsmen about trout and even hire a polling
firm to solicit opinions from anglers unaffiliated with sportsmen’s
clubs.

In the meantime, though, six anglers were asked this question:
“If you were in charge of trout management in Pennsylvania, and
could change one thing about how the state handles the species,
what would it be?”

Their answers – which represent their personal opinions and not
necessarily those of the groups to which they belong – show there
are a lot of issues connected to trout worth thinking about.

Ken Undercoffer, president of the Pennsylvania Council of Trout
Unlimited, is one of the people who will serve on the trout working
group. He said the main concern he’ll bring up there will deal with
wild trout.

Stocked trout have an important place, he said, but they should
be kept separate from wild fish.

“If I had one wish, it would be that the Fish & Boat
Commis-sion quit stocking over our wild trout populations and put
their fish in places that can’t support a fishery otherwise,” said
Undercoffer, a 23-year resident of Greensburg now living in
Clearfield.

“The reason is because putting stocked trout over wild trout
actually damages the wild population.”

Keeping them out of streams with “significant” native
populations – and that’s something that would have to be defined,
he admitted – and putting them in marginal waters would lead to
more trout overall, he said.

Walter Reinemen, president of the Penns Woods West Chapter of
Trout Unlimited in Allegheny County, said he’d focus his attention
on making sure fishermen can get to fish, wild and, perhaps most
importantly, stocked.

The Fish & Boat Commission spends millions of dollars
annually to raise and stock trout. Yet, the reality is that those
fish often move into waters running across private property,
Reinemen said.

In years past, that wasn’t much of a problem, he said. A simple
knock on a door was often enough to get you access to those
places.

That’s not necessarily true anymore, he said. People are less
“sharing,” he said, either because they’ve encountered littering or
had a bad experience with anglers or lease their property or
whatever.

That’s why he’d like to see the commission make securing
easements – like those being purchased along Lake Erie’s steelhead
streams – on trout streams all across the state a priority in its
new trout plan.

“If you can’t get to the fish, that’s a publicly-funded resource
that’s unavailable to the public,” Reinemen said.

Ken Vorndran, vice president of the Tri-County Trout Club in
Allegheny, Westmoreland and Armstrong counties, has been fishing
for about 12 years. In all that time, he’s never creeled a
trout.

He has no problem with those who do take fish home to eat. He
does believe, though, that stocked trout – which cost something
like $2 each to raise – are too valuable to be caught just
once.

The cost of a license and trout stamp is never going to go down,
he said, so the commission needs to make sure anglers are getting
as much for their dollars as they can.

If he were in charge of managing the state’s trout, he would
open trout season a few weeks earlier than the traditional
mid-April, but limit angling to catch-and-release only during the
extra time, he said.

“That would be a way to better utilize those resources that
frankly we’re all paying for,” Vorndran said.

President of the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs,
Rocco Ali thinks the Fish & Boat Commission is largely on the
right track when it comes to how it manages trout. Switching to
raising fewer but bigger fish and moving opening day up in the
southeastern part of the state were both positive moves and
evidence of the “outstanding job” the commission is generally
doing, he said.

“I can’t really say anything bad about the job they’re doing. I
don’t want to,” he said.

Yet if he he does have one pet peeve, it’s the commission’s
practice of sprinkling big, trophy-sized fish in each and every one
of the waters it stocks, regardless of how much habitat exists.

Putting 20-inch fish in places like Deer Creek and Bull Creek
just because they’re close to a population center like Pittsburgh
is a waste, he said, because if they fish aren’t caught within a
week or two, they’ll die.

“This is a put-and-take fishery, we all know that, and that’s
OK. But don’t put your Class A fish in there,” he said.

Lin Gamble, president of the Tub Mill Trout Club in Westmoreland
County, is interested in improving trout streams. His club has
spent the last decade trying to improve Tub Mill Creek, and had
some success, he said.

But if the Fish & Boat Commission focused on offering more
assistance – possibly greatly expanding on its Adopt-A-Stream
program – a lot more could be done, he said.

“We’ve got a lot of streams that are 100 feet wide, but only the
middle 50 have any water and that’s all slack and slow moving,”
Gamble said. “You’ve got streambank erosion, all kinds of problems,
but we just dump fish in the few big holes by the bridges and move
on to the next one.”

To address that, he would have the Fish & Boat Commission
worry less about raising trout – even if that meant relying on
commercial hatcheries instead of state-operated ones to supply fish
– and spend more time on fixing the streams where the fish will
ultimately end up.

“I’d like to see them take one stream per county per year, or
however many they could do, and get in touch with local people who
want to help, and fix them,” Gamble said. “It could be your keynote
stream for the county, or whatever you want to call it. Little by
little you could get a lot accomplished.”

Art Grguric, nursery manager, Blackleggs Creek Watershed
Association and Trout Hatchery, said that like Ali, he’s pretty
satisfied with the commission’s management of trout.

The agency is good to cooperative hatcheries like the one he’s
involved with, he said, and stocks nice fish on its own.

If he could tweak anything in the state’s trout-management plan,
it would be to focus more attention on recruiting more trout
fishermen and convincing them to stay on the water longer.

The opening day of trout season is a big cultural event, Grguric
said. But a month into the season, most of the state’s trout
fishermen have packed away their rods for the year, even though
plenty of fish remain to be caught.

His club stocks 15,000 trout within an 11-mile stretch of stream
along, he said, and it’s chronically “overstocked and
underfished.”

The commission needs to fix that, he said.

“After four weeks, it just seems to go dead,” Grguric said of
trout season. “I know that when we stock our own fish, you can go
up the stream and count all of the guys on one hand, maybe two at
the most. And that’s on the weekend.”

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