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Sports

Naturally Speaking

New Game Management Units
While the autumn hunting seasons are just beginning, the Pennsylvania Game Commission is busy planning for a new wildlife management system that will greatly affect county antlerless deer hunters in 2003. The new system, in its draft form, was unveiled at the Commission’s October meeting.
County boundaries have always been a problem for some doe hunters. If you hunt near a county border with a county-specific license, exactly how are you supposed to determine the often invisible dividing line between legal and illegal hunting? Since I grew up less than a football field away from a county line and my grandmother’s farm straddled both counties, antlerless deer hunting was always a guessing game even while hunting the family farm.
Aside from the county-based antlerless deer units, the commission currently uses five other management units for different species. Various leaders within the commission’s Bureau of Wildlife Management have been talking about new units for several years. The 18 proposed deer management units that had been published for consideration in the “Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations” since 1997 have been revised. Other units, such as the Turkey Management Areas were due for a review, so the Commission decided to build a new system from the bottom up. This new arrangement would enable the PGC to better manage wildlife and simplify things for hunters.
The new plan considered habitat type, human population, land use, as well as public and private land ownership. Every boundary is easily recognizable on a map and while hunting on the ground. “The final product contains 21 management units grouped and identified according to five larger units,” said Cal DuBrock, director of the agency’s Bureau of Wildlife Management.
Blair County falls into three of the new Wildlife Management Units: 2C, 4A and 4D. Under the new system, the “4,” for example, identifies the northern half of the county as a part of Pennsylvania’s Ridge and Valley physiographic providence. The “A” or “D” simply means the first or fourth unit alphabetically in the providence. The “2” designation identifies the southwestern corner of the county as a part of the Appalachian Plateau providence. Units 2C and 4A a smaller units to our south.
Over 433,000 people live in Unit 4D’s 2,780 square miles. Seventy-one percent of the unit is forested, but only 22 percent is in public ownership. Generally speaking, the ridges are forested and the valleys are farmed or contain densely inhabited areas such as Tyrone, Bellwood, State College, Altoona and Huntingdon. The area includes the northern halves of Blair and Huntingdon counties and all of Centre County south of Interstate 80 as well as parts of eight other southcentral counties.
In contrast, Unit 2G (just north of 4D), Pennsylvania’s so-called “Big Woods Country,” is a much larger 4,156 square miles. Only 272,024 people live in the unit, which is 90 percent forested and has 56 percent of its area owned by the public as State Parks, State Game Lands and State Forest Lands. This unit includes all of Centre and Clearfield counties north of I-80 and all or parts of eight other northcentral counties.
While the PA Game Commission claims that the new boundaries are simpler, the boundary description for WMU 4D takes over 100 words. The description for WMU 2G, the state’s largest unit, is almost as bad. A map simplifies the problem, however, and does, as the PGC claims, provide for clear, easy to recognize boundaries. For example, area 4D is roughly a jagged-edged rectangle with Rte. 220 and I-80 as its northern boundary, Routes 45 and 104 on the east, while Rte. 22 forms the southern border, and Rte. 53 forms the western line.
If all goes according to plan, next year’s doe hunters will apply for a specific management unit instead of a county. All applications will be sent to Harrisburg for initial processing and then a formula based on the county’s percentage of a WMU will be used to assign applications to county treasurers for license distribution. By state law, all antlerless deer licenses must be issued by county treasurers.
If Tyrone and Bellwood hunters hunt near home or to the north, the new WMU concept will greatly expand doe hunting opportunities. One license for 4D would allow you to hunt northern Blair and Huntingdon counties, parts of Clearfield and Cambria (up the Janesville Pike) as well as most of Centre County. Altoona hunters hunting near home will have three tough choices.
It is going to take me awhile to escape the “county mentality” when thinking about hunting in Pennsylvania, but that is exactly what the Game Commission wants us to do. The final draft of the new plan will be considered at the Commission’s January meeting. If approved, next fall’s antlerless deer hunters will need to study their maps before they apply for a permit. Once we get used to the idea, however, the new larger units will provide most hunters with increased opportunities.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

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Sports

Naturally Speaking

Trout Summit 2002 a Success
It was with a bit of skepticism that I accepted my invitation to attend the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission’s Trout Summit 2002, which was held late last month. Day one of the two-day event was for fisheries managers and trout biologists from different states to share ideas. Day two, which I attended, was advertised to be a “reaching out” by the agency to inform anglers of current trout programs and to learn what type of trout fishing anglers wanted.
On Friday, September 27, fisheries professionals from Pennsylvania, 17 other states and several Federal agencies, listened to presentations and participated in discussions about fish disease, hatchery discharge standards, stocking programs, funding and other topics. Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries biologist Steve Reeser, who also attend Saturday told me, ”Friday’s sessions contained two-way sharing, and it was a chance for all of us to learn.”
As I drove to Harrisburg early that Saturday morning for day two, I had pretty much convinced myself that I’d make the best of the Summit. After my negative experience with the 1997 Wild Trout Workgroup, I still had my doubts about the outcome, but I hoped that it would be a worthwhile endeavor.
Things looked up when I entered the building. I was impressed with the Trout Summit from the moment that I walked up to the registration desk. Everything was well organized, very professional, and the Fish and Boat Commission really seemed to be glad that we were there and wanted to hear what us anglers had to say. There were many familiar trout enthusiasts gathered in the lobby.
Centre, Blair and Huntingdon counties were well represented at the Summit. They included Mark Jackson, from the Bald Eagle Sportsmen and Bellefonte author Dwight Landis with the Spring Creek Chapter of Trout Unlimited, and others from the area.
In his opening remarks, PFBC Executive Director Peter Colangelo welcomed the 90-some people present, explained the importance of trout fishing to the economy of our state, and outlined the purpose of the Summit. He said, “We want to develop a vision. We’re not here to sell you a package, but instead, [to] work together for the future of trout fishing in Pennsylvania.” Richard Snyder, Chief of Fisheries Management, added in his follow-up presentation, “We are reviewing all coldwater programs from the bottom up,” and he hoped that the day would foster “a two-way flow of information.”
We saw a 45-minute presentation regarding wild trout, by Area Fisheries Manager Mike Kaufmann, and then it was time to move to our pre-assigned break-out groups for discussion. Things were looking up, but on the way downstairs to join the 20 others in Group 5, I introduced myself to Al Chislo, from Allegheny County. Chislo quickly told me, “The problem with trout fishing is too many special regulation areas. We ought to do away with all of them.” Since I know that special regulation waters, such as the Little Juniata River or Spring Creek, are the heaviest fished and best streams in the state, I don’t agree with Chislo, not even a little. Then I thought, “What can we possibly accomplish with such diverse views?”
Chislo was a nice enough fellow, but he represented the Traditional Anglers of Pennsylvania. Whatever “traditional” means, I’m not sure, but I gathered that their position was to: Keep licenses cheap; stock lots of trout; ignore biology; have state-wide regulations that allowed bait everywhere; and promote a liberal creel limit. I hope that isn’t the future of trout angling in the Keystone State.
The facilitators in our breakout group did a great job of listening, allowing all to speak, keeping us on track, and diffusing arguments. We covered each of our four discussion questions at each of the three breakout sessions. All ideas were written on a flip chart and then posted on the wall. At the end of each session, we each received four colored dots to indicate what we felt were the most important ideas, making a vote of sorts. Some ideas were shared with all participants following each breakout.
To give you an idea about the discussion questions assigned, one of our group’s was, “What are your ideas on the role of harvest as part of a wild trout fishery?” Other topics included fisheries management efforts with special regulation, limiting harvest, and habitat improvement, and stocking.
Although opinions were wide ranging and everyone did not agree, a few ideas seemed to shine through loud and clear from Summit participants. The Fish & Boat Commission should:
* spend more money on habitat protection and enhancement;
* stock fewer but larger trout; * not stock Class A Wild Trout Streams;
* consider more species-specific and stream-specific management with wild trout.
Attendee Comments
Spring Creek Trout Unlimited member Dwight Landis said, “It’s hard to get into enough depth with the wild trout issues, but overall the Summit went pretty well.” Landis added, “If the subject is wild trout, I’ll talk to anybody who will listen!”
Mark Jackson thought that the presentations were “very informative.” He also thought that his views were heard and he said, “The group facilitators did a good job. They were abrupt, but they did their job and our group always got through the assigned discussion questions.”
Ted Onufrak, who represented the Pennsylvania Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs, was generally happy with the day, but thought that additional issues needed to be addressed. All four thought that their views were being heard by the Commission, which is certainly a good start.
Three Point Sportsmen Club president Richard Biggins was somewhat unhappy with the way that the morning sessions went, but by the end of the day he felt that he had an ample opportunity to share the views of his club with the group.
In an interview with Colangelo after the Trout Summit, he beamed, “I’m absolutely happy with the way the Summit went. It is so important to open up communication. It is too bad that we didn’t do this years ago.”
Colangelo admitted that a few of the ideas shared by anglers really caught his attention, but he declined to comment at this time on exactly which ones they were. He said, “I get a lot of good ideas from just listening and that’s why we are here today, to listen.” He added, “Hopefully this will give us a new vision.”
I left pleased with the Trout Summit and also happy with the way that all of the participants handled themselves. Everyone was polite and listened to others views even if they disagreed. Though the majority of my breakout group was fly anglers, not once did anyone suggest that there should be more “flies only” areas. I was pleased with the Summit but, in the final analysis, what really matters is what happens to the ideas that were shared. As Onufrak put it, “Will the commissioners who decide policy listen to what we said?” I’ll be watching and hoping for positive results during the next year.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

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Sports

Naturally Speaking

Erie Steelhead Are Running
Recent rains from Hurricane Isadore have finally put some water back into Lake Erie tributary streams. Steelhead are beginning to make their fall run. Western Erie County Deputy Waterways Conservation Officer Randy Leighton reported that, although the water flows were up a little, all stream conditions were still relatively low and clear as of Thursday of this week. The remnants of Hurricane Lili brought more precipitation to the area over the past few days, and steelhead anglers are hoping that more fish will migrate.
The photo in last Saturday’s Herald testifies that a number of area anglers make a trip or two to Erie for steelhead each fall, many others haven’t the slightest idea what the excitement is all about. Here is an Erie steelhead primer.
The Trout
Each year, hundreds of thousands of tiny rainbow trout fingerlings are stocked into Lake Erie tributary streams by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission and the 3 C U Trout Association. Many return to the same streams years later as much bigger fish, averaging five to seven pounds. Runs, as they are called, occur at various times during the fall, winter and early spring.
Fall runs usually begin in September, but their timing is dependent on flow levels in the streams. Generally speaking, steelhead move at night and rest in calm water during the day. High, discolored water encourages them to move during the day. As long as water levels allow them to move, they continue to swim farther upstream each day.
Steelhead can only enter the largest streams during low flows. The steelhead stack up at the mouths of the smaller tributary streams when it is dry.
Lake-run rainbows are usually silvery in appearance, and their heads have a steel gray color, hence the name steelhead. The big trout may or may not have the characteristic pink or red “rainbow” stripe running down their sides. Some have beautiful rose-red gill covers to accent their silver flanks.
These fish are fighters! I assure you that they battle like no trout that you ever landed in central Pennsylvania. Although my first steelhead was caught in 33-degree water, it still hit like a freight train and fought like a bull. It took me over five minutes to land the six-pound fighter on lightweight mono.
Western Streams
Numerous streams enter Lake Erie along Pennsylvania’s short lake front. Most have soft, ever-changing shale bottoms and look very different from the streams here in the central part of the state. For discussion purposes, they are usually divided into two groups – west and east – based on their relationship to the city of Erie.
Westside streams include: Raccoon Creek, Crooked Creek, Elk Creek, Godfrey Run, Trout Run and Walnut Creek.
Walnut is one of the largest and best Pennsylvania steelhead streams. According to Western Erie County WCO John Bowser, some steelhead have moved over two miles upstream, past Route 20. Walnut tends to get cloudy after rains, and this week it was very cloudy because of bridge construction.
DWCO Leighton reports, “The Walnut Project Water pools have been cleaned out and are holding good numbers of fish. The Manchester Hole on Walnut Creek is holding fish and is crowded with anglers daily. Weekends will mean elbow to elbow fishing, with generally crowded conditions every day.”
Elk Creek, larger than Walnut, also has a good run of fish, especially when you consider the low water. The access area to the mouth has good numbers of steelhead and has been crowded on weekends. Leighton recommends the Legion Park Hole, just off of Rte. 20, because it has had fewer anglers.
The other streams are smaller and usually fished at or near their mouths. Both Trout and Godfrey runs are nursery water and fishing is only allowed in the lake. Leighton reports, “Fishing the lake shore at Trout Run has been the most productive, especially at daybreak.” Weekends have been a circus of anglers, and Leighton advises weekday fishing to avoid the mass of anglers and parking problems. Leighton also reminds newcomers that, because of the stream’s status, “Fishing within 50 yards of the mouth of Trout Run is also [prohibited] between the hours of 10 p.m. and 5 a.m.”
Conneaut Creek enters Lake Erie in Ohio, but Pennsylvania anglers can fish the area south of I-90 just east of the Ohio border.
Eastern Streams
Stream “namers” lost their creativity on the other side of Erie.The names of all tributaries are based on their relative distance from the city of Erie. The streams in order are Four Mile, Six Mile, Eight Mile, Twelve Mile, Sixteen Mile and Twenty Mile creeks. All of these streams are fished at their mouths or, in the case of the larger Twenty Mile Creek, the lower one-third mile. Twenty Mile is the most popular of the eastern tributaries.
Leighton stated, “East side tribs do not have the numbers of fish that the west side does; however, the angling pressure is far less, especially during the week.” As of earlier this week, Eastern Erie County Waterways Conservation Officer Mark Kerr reported that Twenty Mile had fish up to Rte. 5, and Twelve Mile had steelhead at its mouth. Kerr also related that a 4-lb., 4-oz. pink salmon was also supposedly caught on Twenty Mile Creek earlier in the week. My first Erie steelhead was caught at the mouth of Twelve Mile Creek.
Access
Rte. 5 parallels Lake Erie fairly close to its shore and crosses all tributary streams. Rte. 20 also parallels the lake and crosses all of the larger tribs about a mile farther upstream. Other secondary highways also cross or come close to some streams. I would highly recommend the purchase of Dwight Landis’ book, “Trout Streams of Pennsylvania – an Angler’s Guide,” for details about each stream and public access points.
Bait, Flies and Lures
Low clear water demands small-diameter, low-lb.-test lines and tippets, while higher or off-color water allows heavier line. Fly anglers do well with tiny egg imitations [photo] in size 16 or even 18. Leighton, who is on the streams almost daily, suggests single salmon eggs for bait anglers if the water is clear and egg sacks if the water is higher. According to WCO Bowser, chartreuse Powerbait is also popular. WCO Kerr reported that a steelhead weighing about 13 pounds was recently landed by a fisherman using Powerbait. WCO Kerr also recommends “spoons with blue/silver, green/silver and fluorescent orange/silver color combinations.”
Conditions
Anglers can get up-to-the-minute reports of conditions on Walnut Creek by calling the Access office during the day at (814) 835-7264, or on all streams by checking the website (www.fisherie.com).
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com

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Sports

Naturally Speaking

Youth Squirrel and Pheasant Seasons Approaching
Young hunters will once again have an opportunity to hunt squirrels during a special two-day youth hunt that will be held on October 12 and 14. A new addition this year to the youth season will be pheasant hunting and the opportunity to participate in a mentored pheasant hunt.
All special youth hunts are open to junior license holders or any junior hunter (ages 12 to 16) who has successfully completed a Hunter-Trapper Education class. A hunting license is not a requirement for the hunts, but the hunter safety course is.
I began my hunting career by sighting down the barrel of a 16 gauge at a squirrel that was feeding high in an oak tree, and I introduced my sons to hunting in the same manner. A squirrel hunt provides a perfect opportunity for a father, mother, or mentor to guide and watch over a beginning hunter. In that controlled setting, it is easy to offer hunting tips and observe hunter safety lessons in practice. The youth hunt offers an atmosphere free from adult competition.
New This Fall
Over 13,500 ring-necked pheasants will be stocked for the first ever Youth Pheasant Hunts at locations listed in the Pennsylvania Digest of Hunting and Trapping Regulations. The three nearby areas that are being stocked for the youth hunt are Bald Eagle State Park near Howard, State Game Lands 77 between Ramey and Janesville (Clearfield Co.) and Raystown Lake Area 420 along Rte. 26 just past the Hesston intersection.
Mentored Youth Pheasant hunts are another new addition from the Pennsylvania Game Commission and cooperating clubs and organizations across the state. Fourteen groups scattered throughout the state have volunteered to hold Mentored Youth Pheasant Hunts, which will give youngsters an opportunity to be guided by experienced hunters during the event.
The Three Point Sportsman Club, in Centre County, is the closest organization that is hosting a Mentored Youth Pheasant Hunt. Club spokesman Steve Demyan explained that about 50 pheasants, a mixture of hens and roosters, will be released on State Game Lands 100 north of Clarence. Demyan explained, “The hunt will take place on a section of old strip mines that was reclaimed by the Game Commission last year and planted with warm season grasses.”
Thirty-six youngsters ages 12 to 16 have already signed up to participate in this year’s hunt, which will begin at approximately 9 a.m. on October 12. Demyan, who as a teenager experienced the better pheasant hunting in Northampton County, said, “Many young hunters in our area of the state have never even seen a pheasant, so this hunt will be a good opportunity to let them try pheasant hunting.”
Hunters will be divided into groups of five and assigned one or more club mentors, explained Demyan. They will proceed walking slowly through the cover, hoping to flush birds. Game cleaning, skinning and hot wax plucking demonstrations, as well as a picnic lunch will be held after the hunt.
The hunt was advertised through the club as well as on the Game Commission’s website and in the regulations digest. Demyan said, “The hunt has attracted young hunters from as far away as Altoona, Spring Grove, and one father is bringing his son from near the New Jersey border.” Unfortunately, according to Demyan, they had more youth show interest than they could handle, so their registration was full as early as two weeks ago. Area youths can still hunt pheasants at Bald Eagle State Park or one of the other previously mentioned locations on October 12 and 14.
The youth squirrel hunt has been a successful addition to hunting season for the past few years, and the new youth pheasant hunt may prove even more popular. I encourage Tyrone and Bellwood area clubs to follow the lead of the Three Point Sportsman and sponsor a mentored youth hunt for next fall.
Mark Nale can be reached at MarkAngler@aol.com