Tailwater Trout in Pennsylvania- What are we waiting for?

Mark NaleThe Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is considering establishing dam-release tailwater trout fisheries in our state. Tailwater trout fisheries rely on regular and dependable bottom releases of cold water from reservoirs. In addition to its favorable temperature, bottom-release water usually supports a diverse population of macroinvertebrates (i.e., trout food).

Many of the best trout rivers in western states are tailwater trout fisheries. The upper Delaware River in New York is a great rainbow trout tailwater fishery. Maryland has several good tailwater trout fisheries, such as Gunpowder Falls. What are we waiting for?

Here’s an example of what could be accomplished in PA. In 1986, the Maryland Chapter of Trout Unlimited and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources negotiated an agreement with the City of Baltimore for a minimum-flow release of cold water from Prettyboy Reservoir.

In the years following, Maryland fisheries biologists planted thousands of fertilized brown and rainbow trout eggs in the gravel and stocked thousands of fingerling and adult brown and rainbow trout below the dam. The first natural reproduction of stream-bred brown trout was detected in 1989. Rainbow trout natural reproduction was first documented in 1991– it has only been successful in the upper 1.2 miles of tailwater. Maryland DNR continues to stock rainbow fingerlings.

According to the Maryland DNR website, “the Gunpowder tailwater can truly be classified as a blue ribbon trout river.”  Presently, 7.2 miles of the Gunpowder Falls between Prettyboy dam and Blue Mount Road are managed for wild trout under catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only regulations.

We have many good wild trout streams, but no significantly-sized stream in Pennsylvania offers a relatively constant flow of cold trout-supporting water. What are we waiting for?

Productive tailwater fisheries have the potential to attract anglers, improve the local economy and provide great recreation. In the case of the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River –- one of the streams under consideration –- a coldwater release from Raystown Dam might also help smallmouth bass. About every other summer, bass in the Juniata and Susquehanna rivers suffer from high water temperatures. A coldwater release from Raystown Dam would help to alleviate that situation.

What are we waiting for?

Categories: Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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