New rules may be in offing for some special trout streams
This was innovative before. Might it be again?
The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission created the country’s first delayed-harvest, artificial lures-only regulations program in 1983 and put the experimental rules in place on Cool Spring Creek in Mercer County. Now it’s looking into changing it to reflect what some have termed new realities and angler preferences.
“It’s been 30 years since this program was established, and we want to see if there might be opportunities to change it and make it better,” said Dave Miko, chief of the commission’s division of fisheries management.
Under current regulations, delayed-harvest waters are open to fishing year-round. Anglers can keep fish only between June 15 and Labor Day, though, when the limit is three fish of at least 9 inches. Only flies and artificial lures, such as spinners are legal; no bait fishing is allowed.
That made sense at one time, Miko said.
But, over time, anglers and fishing have changed, he said. These days, interest in stocked trout wanes for most anglers before the harvest period opens, and water temperatures, especially across the state’s southern tier, are climbing too high by then for trout to survive, Miko said.
Four possible changes to the program may result.
Miko recommended the board consider opening the harvest period on the Saturday before Memorial Day instead of June 15; change the minimum harvest size of a trout from 9 to 7 inches; and change the limit from three to two fish per day. Additionally, and in what would represent the biggest change, the commission is looking at allowing adult anglers to use bait on the streams during the harvest period and allowing youth anglers younger than 16 to fish them with bait year-round.
All of the other states on the East Coast, from Maryland to West Virginia to Georgia, that followed Pennsylvania’s lead in creating delayed-harvest programs all those years ago already have similar regulations in place, Miko said.
The one exception is they don’t allow kids to baitfish year-round.
“That’s where ours would be a little more innovative in trying to continue our angling heritage,” Miko said.
Commissioners appear split on the idea.
Len Lichvar of Somerset County isn’t convinced opening the streams to bait will result in more children fishing.
“I hear this all the time: It’s all about the kids,” Lichvar said. “Sometimes I question that. I hear guys talk about taking kids fishing, but I don’t see them out there. I want to see if they back up their talk.”
Commissioner Glade Squires of Chester County favored the changes for a number of reasons, with “not wasting the resource the primary one.” Stocked fish should be made available for use by anglers, he said.
Those placed in delayed harvest waters are not, to any large degree, surviving through summer, he noted. It would be better to allow fishermen to take a few, he added.
Commissioner Bob Bachman of Lancaster County said changing the harvest period posed no issue for him.
But he questioned the wisdom of creating special rules for youth anglers, in terms of allowing them to use bait during the catch-and-release period.
Better for fishermen and law enforcement officers to have the same rules for everyone all the time, he added.
Miko addressed another possible concern some might have, namely whether allowing bait during the harvest period could lead to a “feeding frenzy” on delayed harvest waters.
The commission would have no problem with fishermen keeping trout on delayed harvest streams when that season is open, he said. In fact, that would be a good thing, he said.
“If we can put some of those fish in a frying pan and make someone happy that way, that’s better than them floating dead down the stream,” he said.
But surveys indicate more than half of all trout anglers release their catch, no matter when or where they’re fishing. So while some may target delayed harvest waters to catch trout to keep, he predicted it’s unlikely hordes of people will swarm the streams for that reason.
The changes formally will be proposed to the board in January, said the commission’s chief counsel, Laurie Shepler. If approved, they would go into effect in 2016. If they’re approved, Miko said, the commission would survey delayed harvest waters in 2015 to monitor use under the existing rules, then again in 2016 under the new ones to see if they increase angler use.