Summit puts Pennsylvania wild trout in the spotlight

Harrisburg — Amid warnings about reduced trout production at state hatcheries, the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is shining new light on wild trout, by planning to hold its first-ever Wild Trout Summit Aug. 26 at the agency’s regional office in Centre County.

The gathering will feature speakers on a range of issues affecting trout, from climate change to natural gas development, and is free and open to the public. Speakers will include fisheries experts from Penn State, Trout Unlimited and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“There’s a lot of misperception in the angler ranks about what we do and don’t do with wild trout,” said Fish & Boat Commission Executive Director John Arway.

“So we felt it was important to focus on what we’ve done for wild trout in the past, what we’re doing in the present, and to get opinions about what we can do in the future.

“We will create a conversation,” he added. “Everybody and anybody is invited to attend.”

As part of an on-going study launched in recent years, the commission has so far documented wild trout in 16,000 miles of the commonwealth’s 86,000 miles of flowing water.

About 1,600 miles have been designated as Class A Wild Trout Waters and that number could increase, Arway said.

“The more we look the more we find.”

Most wild trout waters include native brook trout and naturalized brown trout; about a dozen waters have naturally-reproducing rainbows, Arway said, noting that wild trout streams are listed on the agency’s website.

“We are blessed by wild trout waters that often get overlooked by people who think there are no great fishing opportunities unless the great white fleet (of stocking trucks) visits the scene. The reality is that we want people to fish for the renewable resources that Pennsylvania has.”

“We don’t believe increased angling will do any harm to our wild trout. We’ve got plenty.”

While 68 percent of the 866,166 anglers who bought Pennsylvania fishing licenses last year also bought trout stamps, just a small percentage are believed to exclusively target wild trout, according to the agency.

Brook trout tend to be in hard-to-get-to headwater streams, although bigger streams that support wild trout, such as Penns Creek and Spring Creek, are more accessible.

Promoting wild-trout fishing doesn’t put the resource at risk, but does call attention to the importance of coldwater conservation, Arway said.

“Fishing for wild trout is a specialty kind of fishing. A lot of people don’t like crawling through rhododendron and mountain laurel and over rattlesnakes to present a fly or even a worm to a trout, but many people do.

“We don’t want to change the culture, but we do want to help people understand that a wild trout represents clean, cold water, which is what we are all about.”

Current threats to wild trout include misuse of riparian land, water pollution, climate change, and the installation of pipelines for natural gas, he said.

In recent months, Arway has warned that his agency may be forced to reduce hatchery trout production because of budget constraints.

While he has lobbied legislators to approve bills that would increase license fees or grant his agency the authority to set its own fees, such measures have been stalled in committees.

Trout production at state hatcheries is one of the agency’s greatest expenses, costing about $8.8 million a year. Last year, more than three million trout were stocked, Arway said.

Charles Charlesworth, president of Pennsylvania Council of Trout Unlimited, thinks the upcoming summit is a smart idea and will provide staff biologist Sean Rummel as a speaker on the unassessed waters program.

“We support what the Fish Commission wants to do,” Charlesworth said, noting that TU’s mission is to conserve, restore and protect coldwater fisheries and naturally-reproducing trout.

“Stocking is such a burden on the commission,” he said. “Like a business, you can only manufacture what you can afford; if you don’t have the money, you can’t manufacture the resource.”

Pennsylvania is second only to Alaska in its amount of fishable water, said Charlesworth, of Clarks Summit, so added fishing pressure won’t be a problem if more people discover the fun and the challenge of focusing on wild trout.

“It’s more sporting and more exciting,” he said. “Anyone who’s ever caught one knows…they’re a little more wary to catch and fight twice as hard as a stocked fish.”

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