Commissioners want Saucon Ck. change

Harrisburg — Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commissioners – or at least some of them – know exactly what it is they want.

Specifically, that’s to make it easier for children and families to fish one particular stream.

They may yet get it, too. It just won’t happen as quickly as they hoped.

Saucon Creek runs through Northampton County. A little more than two miles of it is managed under trophy-trout, artificial- lures-only rules. Anglers can keep two fish of at least 14 inches per day so long as they catch them on flies or lures.

A portion of the trophy-trout section runs through Saucon Park, a township green space that’s otherwise home to soccer and baseball fields, basketball courts, hiking trails, pavilions, hiking trails and more. It’s classified as a Class A wild brown trout water.

“So there’s some nice quality fish throughout that section,” said Jason Detar, chief of fish management for the commission.

Mike Topping, president of the Northampton County Federations of Sportsmen’s Clubs, didn’t dispute that. But he said Saucon Park is routinely full of families and children, picnicking and playing. The one thing they can’t do – at least not realistically, given the regulations – is fish, he said.

“I live right there, and I can tell you there are only the same four or five fly-fishermen who ever fish there,” Topping said.

That’s not right, given the “hundreds, if not thousands” of children who live within walking distance, he said. He told Fish & Boat commissioners at their January meeting that if they want more people to fish, and more young people in particular to fish, they should open the stream to bait fishing to make it family-friendly.

One commissioner tried.

Commissioner Glade Squires, of Chester County, suggested the commission stock the creek within the park boundaries with rainbow trout and allow all-tackle fishing for them specifically. The commission could maintain the existing trophy trout rules in regards to brown trout, he said.

Such a change makes sense because Saucon Creek represents “a significant opportunity” to provide fishing in an urban setting for families, he added.

“It was well intentioned, the way it was set aside originally. But we have to look at things smartly,” Squires said.

He recommended the board direct commission Executive Director John Arway to use his authority to stock Class A streams under certain circumstances and put rainbows in Saucon Creek this spring, in time for opening day of trout season.

Commissioner Ed Mascharka, of Erie County, seconded the proposal.

That gave some other board members cause for concern, however.

Commissioner Len Lichvar, of Somerset County, said he wouldn’t be “comfortable making that recommendation now based on what I know, personally.”

Commissioner Warren Elliott, of Franklin County, said he believes the commission has the authority to stock the stream if it so chose. He even supports the idea for the reasons Squires outlined, he said.

But he also “urged caution” about moving too fast. He suggested the commission take time to get public feedback on the idea.

That’s something Commissioner Bill Sabatose, of Elk County, said he’d like to get, too.

“I think we need to get the public to say something,” Sabatose said.

Squires asked if the commission had any obligation to seek out public comment.

The answer is not necessarily. The commission could adopt a temporary regulation to allow for all-tackle fishing, said Laurie Shepler, chief counsel for the agency. But that would be a break from precedent, she added.

“Typically you’ve not done that, where the public’s attitude it not known,” Shepler said.

Corey Britcher, chief of the commission’s law enforcement bureau, brought up another issue. Allowing all-tackle fishing for rainbow trout in the same section of stream where people targeting brown trout had to abide by trophy-trout rules “would create an enforcement nightmare,” he said.

“I would ask you to proceed with caution with that,” he said.

In the end, commissioners directed staff to examine “all possible alternatives” for the stream section within Saucon Park and come back with a recommendation in time for their next meeting, set for March.

If the board chooses to give preliminary approval to any changes then, the agency will likely hold a public meeting in the area of the park later in spring, before the issue would come up for a final vote in July, said Arway. 

That means the earliest any changes would go into effect would likely be 2017, he said.

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