Who should control trout stream classification and fishing regulations in Pennsylvania?

The Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission is charged with managing the state’s reptiles, amphibians and aquatic resources. Landowners can control who sets foot (or fishes) on their properties. Sometimes these two factions are at odds.

A controversy is raging about the management of a section of a central Pennsylvania trout stream. Although it is complicated, it boils down to just a couple of key points: 1. How much say should streamside landowners have over how a stream is managed; 2. How much influence should a small minority of the anglers – fly-fishermen (about 15 percent of the total trout anglers) – have over management decisions?

Penns Creek is a nationally-famous trout stream in Centre and Union counties.  Section 5, in Union County, has been stocked by the Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission and a sportsman’s club and managed under normal Pennsylvania statewide regulations for many years. All kinds of tackle are legal and anglers can keep five trout, measuring at least seven inches long, per day.

Extensive electro-fishing surveys done by the PFBC last June clearly show that this section now supports a naturally-reproduced trout population sufficiently high enough to be considered Class A. This section of Penns Creek has enough wild brown trout to provide excellent fishing without stocking.

Staff proposed – and the commissioners approved in July – a Class A designation, thus removing that section of stream (Cherry Run to near Weikert) from the 2019 stocking list. Staff has proposed that new regulations for this 3.8-mile section be catch-and-release – artificial lures only. No bait fishing will be allowed.

The largest stream-frontage owner in this section, by far, is the Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, for one side of the stream is part of the Bald Eagle State Forest. However, there is no easy access to the stream from the southern (state forest) side. Almost all of the access is controlled by private landowners on the northern side. Up to this point, most landowners have allowed visiting anglers free access to the stream.

A group of local landowners is opposed to the termination of stocking and the artificials-only regulations. They recognize that a precedent has already been set by the Commission – about a dozen Class A streams are still stocked. These landowners are showing their displeasure by posting their Penns Creek property against trespass, thereby blocking angler parking and access to the stream. Of course, the landowners have every right to post their land. In my opinion, however, this is a blatant attempt to blackmail the Fish & Boat Commission.

During the next few months, the commissioners will need to decide how to best manage Penns Creek, one of the state’s most valuable trout resources. Inevitably, the controversy over managing this section of Penns Creek raises important questions:

  1. Should the agency acknowledge landowner preferences and at least allow the Union County Sportsmen’s Club to continue to stock trout?
  1. Is there a biological reason to discriminate against bait anglers and have “artificials-only” regulations?
  1. Should the commission change their management recommendation to catch-and-release – all tackle – keeping the section open to all anglers?

The 60-day public comment period is underway, and I am pretty sure how the letters and online comments will turn out.

I’m painting with a broad brush here, but fly anglers are well organized – with many belonging to fishing clubs and groups such as Trout Unlimited. Quite a few are also better off financially than the typical bait angler. If letters and emails are needed to support a position, such as “artificials-only,” this group can produce.

Several Fish & Boat commissioners are also fly-fishing enthusiasts. In my opinion, they sometimes overindulge their “enthusiasm” to support fly fishing when they should be thinking of the vast majority of license-buyers who prefer to fish with bait.

Bait anglers are not organized in any meaningful way. The PFBC claims that it “doesn’t count ‘votes’ from public comment” – however, the highest number of angler letters and emails will likely come from the 15 percent who fish with flies and therefore support artificials only.

It will be interesting to see how this management decision plays out and the rationale that the commissioners use to arrive at their decision. The implications are much broader than one 3.8-mile section of Penns Creek.

I hope that the commissioners will be inspired to make the best decision based on the resource and fishing access, as well as considering the interests of all who purchase a fishing license and trout stamp.

No ax to grind: I do 99 percent of my trout fishing with artificial lures and I have been a member of Trout Unlimited for over 40 years.

Categories: Blog Content, Pennsylvania – Mark Nale

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