Pennsylvania bait anglers beware
April’s Pennsylvania Fish & Boat Commission meeting will go down in history for what almost happened, not what did happen. The big event was not mentioned in the agency’s news release. Maybe it will just fade away, although several commissioners seemed hell-bent on making a big change in wild trout management.
To what am I referring? It’s the Trout Unlimited effect: Trout Unlimited – a national conservation, fly-fishing organization — strongly favors catch-and-release trout fishing. Although the group claims not to favor any specific tackle types, its magazine, calendar and actions show an extraordinarily strong fly-fishing bias. Trout magazine last had a bait fishing article in 1985.
Far less than 1% of all trout anglers in Pennsylvania belong to Trout Unlimited, but their influence on the board of commissioners is huge. One only needs to read what happened at the April meeting to confirm this.
In the middle of the meeting, and totally out of the blue, Commissioner Eric Hussar, a TU member, made a motion to make all Class A Wild Trout Streams in Pennsylvania catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only. Normally, all such motions are brought up before the Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee, and if passed, presented to the full board.
Hussar’s motion was quickly seconded by Commissioner Charlie Charlesworth, former president of Pennsylvania TU. Seconds later, Commissioner William Brock (also a TU member) chimed in that he supported Hussar’s motion. To the best of my knowledge, Hussar, Charlesworth and Brock are all catch-and-release fly-fishermen. Therefore, this motion would not affect their fishing at all. However, it might affect yours.
If passed, this motion would forbid the harvest of trout and the use of any type of bait (salmon eggs, minnows, earthworms, PowerBait, wax worms, etc.) on any Class A Wild Trout Stream in Pennsylvania. The reason for Hussar’s motion – he thinks it would protect wild trout for the future.
A very lively discussion ensued. A voice of reason, current Commission president Richard Lewis, stated that he could not support Hussar’s motion.
“I share your concern for wild trout, but you are putting forth a motion I don’t have adequate data or any knowledge that making all these streams catch and release would guarantee that these streams will have more fish,” Lewis said.
“Can you tell me how many miles of stream will be impacted by this proposal?” he asked.
Neither Hussar, Charlesworth nor Brock seemed to know the answer to this very reasonable question, or they avoided answering it.
The answer — Tucked away on the commission’s website is a list of nearly 1,000 Class A streams, totaling approximately 3,000 miles of water. These streams are located in 56 counties. Ninety-nine percent of these streams are not mentioned in the regulation booklet and are not marked in any way with signage.
Almost all of these streams allow bait fishing and the harvest of up to five trout per day for six months of the year. They are already catch-and-release the other six months.
After nearly 45 minutes of discussion, Commissioner Daniel Pastore made a motion to table the issue until the next Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee meeting. His motion passed seven to three.
Following the vote to table Hussar’s motion, the discussion continued on fly-fishing message boards. A disappointed former Commission Executive Director John Arway posted on paflyfish.com:
“… Not only does the Board lack the courage to move this forward, there wasn’t a clear comment in defense about why not.” Arway called the move to make all Class A streams catch-and-release, artificial-lures-only “a no brainer.”
A former commission biologist followed with this: “The ‘no-brainer’ is that when there is minimal harvest there is no need for additional fishing-related regulations. If biologists find an individual stream population that exhibits a harvest problem, deal with it appropriately, but don’t over-regulate a statewide population that does not need it. Continue to follow the science. The commissioners got it right so far.”
More than 70 comments that followed on the message board were mixed — some supporting the motion, others supporting catch-and-release but not artificial-lures-only, and still others opposing the entire idea.
Protecting wild trout
Hussar’s motion was made under the guise of protecting wild trout. If you ask a fisheries biologist, he or she would tell you that the number of wild trout in a given stream is primarily controlled by the available habitat, food, floods, droughts and extremely hot summer days.
In fact, Arway even admitted this in his message board post: “Although wild trout populations are controlled by Mother Nature (primarily floods and droughts), adding a No Harvest regulation will certainly protect some trout.”
About 80% of all trout anglers fish primarily with bait. So, let me get this straight. Arway — and at least three commissioners — think that it would be a good idea to exclude 80% of the anglers from 3,000 miles of streams to protect “some trout.” Almost all Class A streams became Class A while being managed under existing regulations, which allow bait fishing and a harvest of five trout per day. Do they need extra protection, and to what end?
If Hussar’s motion were to be passed by the full commission, children living along Logan Branch (a Class A stream in Centre County), for example, would not be allowed to fish with bait in their backyards. If a big trout were accidentally to be hooked in the gills with a streamer and bleed badly, the angler will have to release the trout only to watch it die. Campers or hikers — a Class A stream-side lunch of fresh-caught fried trout? Not if Hussar has his way.
Tucked away — If you would like to see the list of Class A streams, go to www.fishandboat.com, click on “Fish,” then “Pennsylvania Fishes.” Are you almost there? Well, almost halfway. Click on “Trout,” then “Trout Water Classifications,” and finally, “Class A Wild Trout Streams.” Shazam — a list 35 pages long will appear. Like I said, it is tucked away.
After a public comment period of less than two days, the Fisheries and Hatcheries Committee held a meeting on May 10. No surprise — a Trout Unlimited representative commented that the organization supported Hussar’s motion.
The issue was again discussed at length at the committee meeting. The motion failed, by a vote of four to two, with only Hussar and Brock voting in favor. Charlesworth is not on the committee.
Bait anglers — stay vigilant if you don’t want to lose access to nearly 3,000 miles of Pennsylvania’s best trout streams. Hussar is dead set on making this happen.